285) That’s Just Life (part two)

     (…continued)  The song “Sounds Like Life to Me” by Darryl Worley is a good song, and a true song, and it says some of the very same things as those Bible verses in yesterday’s meditation.  And it can be a helpful song for someone like Johnny Ray who is just going through some tough times and needs to hear that perspective.  There are many perpetual grumblers, drama queens, and people having a rough go of it (and that’s all of us at least some of the time), who do need to listen to the message of that song, because that’s just life.  We all need to suck it up sometimes (in the words of the song), or, as the Bible might put it, remain ‘strong, firm, and steadfast,’ and just get used to the unpredictability and ongoing misery of life.

     But the song certainly doesn’t say everything there is to say on the subject.  The song is a little bit too sarcastic when it says casually, “you’d think you were caught up in some tragedy.”  In my work I get around to many people who really are caught up in some very real tragedies, and they won’t be comforted by a cute little country song by Darryl Worley, no matter how true it is.  More needs to be said.

     That also goes for those Bible verses about life’s misery.  The verses are true– it is God’s Word after all, and we do need to hear those words and take them to heart.  That is indeed just how life is.  But again, more needs to be said, and the Bible does have more to say.  It says, as in Psalm 40, that God does hear our cry, and that he will not leave us in the desolate pit, but God will lift us out and give us a firm and hopeful place to stand.  Psalm 40 doesn’t go into all the details of how God does that, but there are a thousand more pages in the Bible where it is more fully described.

     That best loved Psalm of all, Psalm 23, begins to hint at how God does this when it says in the last verse, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever…”  Forever, it says.  Most of us are pretty good at putting up with tough times for a while, if we at least have the hope that things are going to get better.  And every life does have its ups and downs, and usually we are okay if we can at least see a light at the end of the tunnel.  However, there are those times that come into every life where there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and due to terminal illness, permanent loss, old age, or whatever else, there are not going to be any more ups to follow the downs.  But when the promises of the Bible speak of forever, that changes everything.  Now there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, now there is no situation that is completely hopeless, and now we know that God always has another place to put us on a firm foundation, even when everything, even life itself, slides out from under us here.  God has an endless amount of time, forever and ever as we say in the Lord‘s Prayer, in which to make things right again for us.  And we find that kind of hope and promise only in the Bible. Psalm 23 begins to hint at this forever promise of God, and it reaches its fulfillment in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and in his promise to all believers that “Because I live, you shall live also.”

     In John 1:29 Jesus makes his first appearance as an adult.  John the Baptist had been so powerful in his preaching about the coming of the Messiah that people began to believe that he, John, was the Messiah.  In verse 19-23, John had to tell the religious leaders that he was not the one, but merely the one who was sent to prepare the way for Jesus.  Then, in verse 29 when John sees Jesus coming to him, John says, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  Jesus was here, John said, to ‘take away the sin of the world.’  All that misery and despair of life, so well described by the Psalmist and by Job and by Darryl Worley, all that trouble was brought into the world by sin, says the Bible, and now, Jesus was here to take away the sin of the world.

     Believe in Jesus, and you will be all right, says the rest of the New Testament.  God has all eternity to make things right for you, and in His own good time He will ‘lift you up, set your feet on a firm place, and give you a new song to sing;’ and that song won’t be “Sounds Like Life to Me,” but it instead it will be “I’m Bound for the Promised Land” where “sickness and sorrow, pain and death, are felt and feared no more.”  And in the meantime, allow those afflictions that are just a part of life remind you of that other life, and call you back to Jesus, and teach you to put your trust in Him.  Because as you well know, the better things go for us here, the more likely we are to forget all about our need for God.  Our afflictions do us the favor of calling us back to God.

     A while back I was in the waiting room of an Intensive Care Unit with a very worried mother and father.  “We never prayed so much as we have in the last three days,” they said.  I knew that couple had been a little weak in the faith, church, and prayer part of life these last few years.  They have been richly blessed, and had begun to take for granted the Giver of all those blessings.  A few days in the ICU was enough to remind them to get back in touch, and they did.

     I do like that song by Darryl Worley, but if I could tweak it a little I would add just one word to the title.  Instead of ‘Sounds Like Life to Me,” my ‘Christianized’ version could say, “Sounds Like This Life to Me.”  I would make that change because not only does God lift us out of the desolate pit, as the Psalmist says, God also will one day lift out of this life and out of this world, and bring us up into His heavenly home and his promise of an eternal, and perfect, life there.  There is always that light at the end of every tunnel, no matter how long and how dark.  Jesus is the light of the world, says the Bible, and the light at the end of every dark tunnel of your life.

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John 1:29  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

I Peter 5:6-7…10  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Revelation 21:1a…3-5  —  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…   And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

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Gracious Father, be pleased to touch our hearts in time with trouble, with sorrow, with sickness, with disappointment, with anything that may hinder them from being hard to the end and leading us to eternal ruin.  Amen.

–Thomas Arnold (1795-1842), father of Matthew Arnold

284) That’s Just Life (part one)

Psalm 40:1-4a  —  I waited patiently upon the Lord, who stooped to me and heard my cry.  The Lord lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a high cliff, making my footing sure.  The Lord has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.  Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

     The Lord lifted me, it says, out of the desolate pit and the miry clay.  Some translations say out of the ‘pit of despair’ and out of the ‘muck and the mire.’  Have you ever been there, in that ‘desolate pit,’ or, as we might say these days, ‘in the pits‘ or ‘down in the dumps?’  I think everyone knows the feeling.  We all know what the Psalmist is talking about.  Most of us do spend some time, or a lot of time, down in that desolate pit.  But ‘the Lord has lifted me out,’ it says, and maybe you have also been lifted out.  I know I have been lifted out a time or two.  And maybe you have not yet been lifted out, and are in that pit right now.  But no matter where you are, or how much time you are down in that muck and mire, the Lord will, in His own time, lift you out.  Verse one: “I waited patiently upon the Lord, who stooped to me and heard my cry… and lifted me out.”

     This crying out to God from the pit of despair is a common theme in the Psalms.  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” says Psalm 130.  “My soul is full of trouble and my life draws near to the grave,” are some of the first words of Psalm 88, and the closing words are “my companions and friends have all been taken from me, and now the darkness is my closest friend.”  “I cannot escape the grief,” the Psalmist also says, “I have no strength, day and night I cry to you, why have you rejected me, Lord?”  And Psalm 22 begins with some words of deep despair that Jesus himself called to mind and spoke while hanging in agony on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

     If the Bible did not acknowledge this side of life, which we all do experience, it would not be a book worth believing in.  But the Bible does describe this pit of despair, and it tells stories about people of great faith who also faced deep disappointment and knew what it was to be stuck in the muck and mire of the desolate pit.  Job 14:1 describes quite well a truth we all recognize when it says, “Man born of woman gets only a few days, and they are full of trouble.”  The Bible’s appeal comes not only in its wonderful offer of grace and mercy, but also in this realistic understanding of life.

     The Imitation of Christ is a little devotional book written in the 15th century by a monk named Thomas a Kempis.  It includes a chapter called ‘Thoughts on the Misery of Man,’ and there a Kempis has this to say:  “Miserable you are, wherever you be, or wherever you turn, unless you turn to God.  So why be so dismayed when things do not happen as you wish and desire?  Is there anyone who has everything as he wishes?  No, there is no one in the world, be he Pope or King, who does not suffer trial and anguish.”  That’s just life, says the Psalmist and Job and Thomas a Kempis.  And anyone who thinks they are going to live without misery will most certainly suffer the misery of disappointment, and suffer it often.

     I have been quoting from people who lived 500 to 3000 years ago, and we have certainly come a long way since then.  Life is, in many ways, a lot easier nowadays.  But we haven’t yet solved any of our biggest problems, and this life can still be pretty miserable, and I heard the same kind of thoughts expressed in a song written a few years ago.  It is a country song by Darryl Worley (if you can imagine that, a country song about misery).  It’s called “Sounds Like Life to Me.”  Here are some of the words (paraphrased a bit):

   I got a call last night from an old friend’s wife, she said ‘I hate to bother you– but Johnny Ray is drinking again and been gone all afternoon.’
   I know my buddy so I drove to Skully’s and I found him at the bar.  I said ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’
   And he said, ‘I don’t know where to start.  Sarah’s old car is about to fall apart and the washer quit last week.  We had to put momma in the nursing home and the baby’s cutting teeth.  And I didn’t get much work this week and I got bills to pay.’
   So I said to him, ‘I know this ain’t what you wanna hear, but it’s what I’m gonna say.  To hear you talk you’d think you were caught up in some tragedy, but it just sounds like life to me.  It’s just a common case of everyday reality.  Man, I know its tough, but you gotta suck it up, It sounds like life to me.’
   Well, his face turned red and he shook his head and he said, ‘You don’t understand, Three kids and a wife depend on me and I’m just one man.  To top it off I just found out that Sarah’s two months late.’
   And so I said “Bartender, set us up a round, we need to celebrate…  Sounds like life to me, plain old destiny, the only thing for certain is uncertainty. you gotta hold on tight and just enjoy the ride and get used to the unpredictability.  It sounds like life to me.”

For the video of Darly Worley’s Sounds Like Life to Me go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Geg6_-3jPzI

(this meditation will be concluded tomorrow…)

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Psalm 130:1-2  —  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.  Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.

Job 14:1-2  —  Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.  He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.

Psalm 40:1-2  —  I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

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Blessed Lord Jesus, who knows the depths of loneliness and the dark hours of the absence of human sympathy and friendliness:  help me to pass the weary hours of the night and the heavy hours of the day, as you did, and know that you are with me, as your Father was with you; lift up my heart to full communion with you; strengthen me for my duty; keep me constant to my trust, and let me know that however dark or desolate the hour, I am not alone, for you are with me; your rod and your staff are my comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

Army and Navy Service Book (1940’s)

283) Wisdom from Robert E. Lee

Quotes by Robert E. Lee (January 19, 1807 – October 12, 1870); Commander of The Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War

Lee

Do your duty in all things.  You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.

I think it better to do right, even if we suffer in so doing, than to incur the reproach of our consciences and posterity.

I tremble for my country when I hear of confidence expressed in me. I know too well my weakness, that our only hope is in God.

At present, I am not concerned with results.  God’s will ought to be our aim, and I am quite contented that His designs should be accomplished and not mine.

We failed, but in the good providence of God apparent failure often proves a blessing.

Never do a wrong thing to make a friend or to keep one.

Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.

The education of a man is never completed until he dies.

The war… was an unnecessary condition of affairs, and might have been avoided if forebearance and wisdom had been practiced on both sides.

We must expect reverses, even defeats.  They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.

What a cruel thing is war: to separate families and friends, and mar the purest joys God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.

It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means than to make our means conform to our wishes.

I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.

I like whiskey.  I always did, and that is why I never drink it.

My trust is in the mercy and wisdom of a kind Providence, who ordereth all things for our good.

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him.  He can not only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which imparts sufficient strength to let the past be put in the past.

The truth is this:  The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged.  It is history that teaches us to hope.

There is no more dangerous experiment than that of undertaking to be one thing before a man’s face and another behind his back.

You must study to be frank with the world:  frankness is the child of honesty and courage.  Say just what you mean to do on every occasion, and take it for granted that you mean to do right.

Get correct views of life, and learn to see the world in its true light.  It will enable you to live pleasantly, to do good, and, when summoned away, to leave without regret.

In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.

My chief concern is to try to be an humble, earnest Christian.

I can only say that I am nothing but a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone for salvation.

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Colossians 3:16-17  —  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

James 1:2-5  —  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.  If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Philippians 4:8  —  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 praiseworthy– think about such things.

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Direct us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your Name, and finally, by your mercy, obtain everlasting life, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

282) The End of the World

Then the end will come, when (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to God the Father
after he has destroyed all dominion, authority, and power.  –I Corinthians 15:28

     In this verse Paul is writing about the end of the world.  “Then the end will come…” he says.  When I was a child, I was quite sure that the end would come any day.  I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s during the hottest days of the Cold War.  The United States and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weapons to destroy each other 200 times over and it looked like it was only a matter of time before they would do so.  Now things are different.  There is no Soviet Union anymore, and the United States and Russia are getting along a little better.  But that does not mean that we are safe.

     In 1948, just three years after the only hostile use of nuclear weapons, C. S. Lewis wrote an essay entitled, “Living in an Atomic Age.”  Much of what he writes could also be applied to ‘living in an age of terrorism.’  He begins by asking, “How are we to live in an atomic age?”  He replies, “Why, (just) as you would have lived in the 16th century when the plague visited London every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, (heart attacks), or car accidents…  Believe me,… you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death long before the atomic bomb was invented; and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways…  It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”  (Present Concerns, p. 73f)

     However, one might say, what is new and different about nuclear war is that these bombs could destroy all of civilization, even all of life.  The lights may be put out for everyone, forever.  But Lewis goes on to point out that this also is no different than it has always been.  Everyone who knows even a little science knows that with or without the atomic bomb the whole story of this universe is going to end in nothingness.  Scientists hold out no hope that this planet will be permanently inhabitable.  Resources will be used up, the sun will burn out, and everything will become cold and lifeless.  The whole universe is running out of energy and will not last forever.  Nature does not, in the long run, favor life.  If nature is all there is, or in other words if there is no God, then history will end in a cold and dark universe from which all life is banished with no possibility of return.  Nuclear war would greatly reduce the time left for life on this little planet, but war or no war, human history can be no more than a brief drop of time in the vast ocean of eternity.

     Many years ago, an old prophet who knew nothing about nuclear war or modern physics wrote these words (Isaiah 51:4a,6):  “Listen to me, my people, lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth below.  The heavens will vanish like smoke.  The earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die like flies.”  That is how it will end, said Isaiah writing in 600 B.C. and C. S. Lewis writing in 1948.  That is how it will end, and each day we move closer to that end.  So the most important question is not whether or not nuclear warfare will obliterate civilization.  That is indeed a big question and we must all hope that the leaders of the world keep working to prevent that.  But what is most important to know is if this universe is all there is, or if there is something more.

     Jesus once asked his followers that same question from a different angle.  Jesus asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”  Was Jesus just a man, a part of nature, like us, here for just a little while and then dead and obliterated into dust and ashes forever?  Or, was Jesus who he said he was, someone from above and beyond this fragile and temporary world, and thus someone we can look to for something more?  “Who do you say that I am ?” asks Jesus of each of us.  Immediately following all that dreadful talk about the world wearing out like a garment and people dying like flies, the Almighty God said through Isaiah:  “But my salvation will last forever and my righteousness will never fail.”  And Jesus said in the Gospel of John (chapter 14), “Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And I will come back and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be also.”

     This world is a pretty good place in which to live– for a while.  But it is not going to last.  Jesus speaks of another place that is beyond all that we can see, beyond this world that is wearing out and can be made uninhabitable by nuclear bombs, beyond this universe that is growing ever colder, and this natural world where death rules.  When the scientists speak of the end of this universe, that means the end of all life and they can offer no further hope.  But when the Bible speaks of the end of this world, it is always in the context of this hope and promise of that new and greater place that will never die or wear out.  Paul says in Romans chapter 8 that all creation looks forward this time when it will be “liberated from its bondage to decay.”  Therefore, in our fragile life on this temporary little planet, we must trust in God who says from the throne in Revelation 21, “Behold, I am making all things new,” and in Jesus who said, “I am going on ahead to prepare a place for you.”

     Jesus has told us that we need not fear those who can only kill the body, for they cannot kill the soul (Matthew 10:28).  C. S. Lewis once said:  “Anyhow, when the bomb falls there will always be just that split second in which one can say, ‘Pooh!  You are only a bomb, but I am an immortal soul’” (quoted in Light on C. S. Lewis, Gibb and Barfield, p. 64,65).

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Isaiah 51:6  —  Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies.  But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.

Matthew 10:28  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Matthew 16:15-16  —  “But what about you?” (Jesus) asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

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Merciful God, be gracious to me. I know that even when I have done my best, I am still a miserable sinner and deserve nothing but your displeasure.  But regardless of my past life, I am comforted knowing that Jesus Christ has died for me, and that in Him I have the forgiveness of all my sins.  For I have indeed been baptized in your name; and, I have heard the Word through which you have called me, commanded me to believe, and assured me of grace and life.  With these blessings I will gladly die, without anxious doubts and fears about what will happen to me then.  For I now live in the assurance of the gracious promise which God has given me from heaven:  ‘He who believes in the Son of God has eternal life.’  Amen.  –Martin Luther

281) Good Work

By Dorothy Sayers, British writer (1893-1957), Creation or Chaos, 1949, pages 56-57.

     The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.  By all means he should go to church, and he should certainly find for himself decent forms of amusement– but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?  No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare say, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth.  Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth.  No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.

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Mark 6:3a  —  “Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son…?” 

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

I Peter 4:10–11  —  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen. 

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A MORNING PRAYER FOR LABORERS:  O God, we thank you for the sweet refreshment of sleep and for the glory and vigor of the new day.  As we set our faces once more toward our daily work, we pray for strength sufficient for our tasks.  May Christ’s spirit of duty and service ennoble all we do.  Uphold us by the consciousness that our work is useful work and a blessing to others.  If there has been anything in our work harmful to others and dishonorable to ourselves, reveal it to our inner eye with such clearness that we shall hate it and put it away, even though it be at a loss to ourselves.  When we work with others, help us to regard them not as servants to do our will, but as brothers and sisters, equal to us in human dignity, and equally worthy of their full reward.  May there be nothing in this day’s work of which we shall be ashamed when the sun has set, nor in the evening of our life when our task is done and we to go our long awaited home to see your face.  We pray this in the name of Jesus our Lord.  AMEN.

–Walter Rauschenbusch (alt.), For God and the People: Prayers of the Social Awakening, 1909

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O Lord, give your blessing, we pray, to our daily work, that we may do it in faith and heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.  All our powers of body and mind are yours, and we devote them to your service.  Sanctify them, and the work in which we are engaged; and, Lord, so bless our efforts that they may bring forth in us the fruits of true wisdom.  Teach us to seek after truth and enable us to gain it; and grant that while we know earthly things, we may know you, and be known by you, through and in your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.  

–Thomas Arnold (1795-1842)

280) Wisdom from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968) would have been 85 years old yesterday.  King was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1954 to 1960.  Everyone knows about Rev. King’s work after 1960, but many forget that his work as a reformer that changed America began with, and grew out of, his call to serve as the pastor of a congregation.

I’ve decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.

We may have all come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.

The time is always right for doing what is right.

Everyone can be great because everyone can serve.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.  This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.  And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.  A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Take the first step in faith.  You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’  Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’  But conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’  And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…  Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was:  “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”  But… the good Samaritan reversed the question:  “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

Well, I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.  And I’m happy, tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.   –The last words of Rev. King’s last speech, April 3, 1968

A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.

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I John 4:15-21  —  If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given us this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

II Corinthians 5:7  —  We live by faith, not by sight.

Colossians 3:12-14  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

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A DOXOLOGY BY REV. KING:  And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling and lift us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy; to him be power and authority, for ever and ever.  Amen.

279) Real Choices Without Consequences?

By Randy Alcorn, from his January 3, 2014 blog at http://www.epm.org

     In this conversation from my novel Deception, Jake and Clarence challenge Ollie’s desire for both freedom to choose and freedom from evil’s consequences:

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“You believe in free choice?” Jake asked.

“Yeah.”

“Doesn’t free choice demand the freedom to choose evil?”

“Not if it causes this much suffering.”

“How much suffering is acceptable? Can you have real choices without consequences, both good and bad?”

I [Ollie] shrugged.

“Isn’t it inconsistent,” Clarence piped in, “to say it’s good for God to give us free choice, but then say He shouldn’t allow evil consequences from evil choices?”

“You can’t have it both ways,” Jake said.

These guys were a regular tag team.

“I’ve made some bad choices,” I said.  “If I had it to do over again, I’d have been there for my daughters.  But if God’s all-powerful, couldn’t He have made me do it right in the first place?”

“Made you do it right?”  Jake asked…  “If I were to offer to make things okay in your life, but to do it I had to take away your ability to choose, would you take me up on it? Ask me to make all your decisions for you?”

“Then it would be your life, not mine,” I said.

“Exactly.  So how can you expect God to give us free choice, then fault Him because He did?  What could He do to make you happy?”

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Job 38:1-4  —  Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:  “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.”

Job 40:6-8  —  Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:  “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Would you discredit my justice?  Would you condemn me to justify yourself?”

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O think me worth your anger, punish me,
Burn off my rusts and my deformity.
Restore your image so much, by your grace,
That you may know me, and I’ll turn my face.  –John Donne

278) Bill and Jake (part two)

     (...continued)  In Luke 17:11-19 there is a story of ten men with leprosy who came to Jesus for healing.  Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests who would have to declare them free of the disease.  While they were on their way to the priests they were all healed.  But of those ten recipients of so great a miracle, only one returned to thank Jesus. 

     Those ten lepers were a bit like Bill in the previous meditation.  They, like Bill, had some faith– enough to cry out to Jesus for help.  They did believe that maybe he could help them.  Jesus heard their plea and responded, sending them to the priests.  It is important to notice here that they were not yet healed.  They had to start out for the priests in faith that they would be healed by the time they got there.  But they were obedient, and though still sick and full of sores, they headed to the priests to be declared well.  Bill also was obedient to God’s law.  He lived a good life, did what was right, and served others.

     Then came the healing.  Verse 14 says, “and as they went, they were cleansed;” they were healed of that dreaded disease.  And then, nine of those ten men were all done with Jesus.  They had received what they wanted and they were gone.  Only one returned to thank Jesus, and for him, this showed that not only was his body healed, but also that his heart was changed.  He was now filled with faith.  He not only looked to Jesus for a favor, he now also returned to Jesus to praise and thank him.  And Jesus acknowledged this change of heart:  “Rise and go,” he said, “your faith has made you well.”  And Jesus did not hide his disappointment with the others, saying, “Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?”  Apparently, Jesus had hoped he would hear from them too. 

     Those other nine men were like Bill.  They did believe in Jesus, but only to a certain point.  And they were willing to obey.  But we see in the response of Jesus words that there has to be more.  Jesus doesn’t just want just our obedience, he wants us.  He wants us to know him, to return to him, and to thank him.  Jesus wants our obedience, yes, but he also wants our response of faith, he wants our hearts and our prayers and our trust and our gratitude, he wants us; and so he wants us to keep in touch with him in prayer and in worship.  We were made for God, for now and all eternity. 

     If necessary, one may have to speak of our response to God in terms of God’s commands.  But why should that be necessary?  Think again about the response of that one leper who did return to give thanks.  He was not commanded to go back and thank Jesus.  No one had to say to that man, “Now remember your manners.  You really ought to get back there and thank Jesus.  That is the proper and polite thing to do, you know.”  No one had to tell that man to go back to Jesus.  He had just been healed of leprosy, that dreaded disease that resulted in deformed and damaged limbs and faces, and meant lifelong isolation from the rest of the community.  A leper in those days had no hope of ever being cured– but here this man was healed instantly by Jesus.  For him to return and give thanks is what one would expect.  One would think such a grateful response would be only natural and spontaneous and sincere.  One would not think it would have to be commanded.  And so the big question in the story is the astonishing question asked by Jesus himself, “Where are the other nine?” 

     We also have been richly blessed by God with life and family and health and food and sunshine and rain and so much more, all freely given.  It seems very odd that we should even have to ask, “Do we have to pray?  Do we have to go to church?  Do we have to go every week?  Doesn’t the Bible say we just have to believe?”  God blesses us in so many ways, everything we are and have is from him– and yet we want to find ways to justify the least possible response.  Should we not instead be spontaneously taking advantage of every opportunity to return thanks, without having to speak in terms of commands and obedience? 

     You remember how Bill loved his daughter Sally and his heart ached for her.  And Sally loved her dad, and if she wasn’t so busy she would have visited her parents more often.  But could you imagine Sally saying to her father, “Dad, I am sick of all your complaining about how seldom you see us.  What will it take to get you off my back?  Would it be enough if we come there once a year for three days?  Would that fulfill our duty to you so I don‘t have to worry about losing my third of the inheritance?” 

     Such a reply would indicate there was something very wrong in that relationship.  But that isn’t how Bill described it all.  However, that is the attitude we display if we attempt to calculate what it will take to please God just enough to get to heaven but not so much as to inconvenience ourselves here any more than we have to.  This kind of thankfulness is not sincere but only a feeble attempt to manipulate God to get his blessings.

     Where do you see yourself in the story?  Are you like the one leper who returns spontaneously to worship and thank Jesus, or are you like the other nine who pay only enough attention to Jesus to get what they want? 

     We have all probably said at one time or another, ‘I didn’t get anything out of church today.”  But certainly that is approaching worship from the wrong angle.  We are ‘getting’ from God every moment of our lives.  We go to worship to give to God our thanks and praise. 

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Luke 17:17  —  Jesus asked…”Where are the other nine?” 

Colossians 2:6-7  —  So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 

Titus 1:16a  —  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. 

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Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being:  We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but remember that we are ever walking in your sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  —Bo

ok of Common Prayer

277) Bill and Jake (part one)

     Bill was one of the volunteers for the ‘Meals on Wheels’ program in his small town.  He had recently retired and enjoyed delivering the meals three days a week to several of the elderly folks in the community.  One of the folks he delivered to was his old fishing buddy, Jake.  Bill would always go to Jake’s place last and then stay and visit for a while.  One day Jake said to Bill, “You know Bill, it’s nice of you to deliver these meals to us.  I always thought you were a pretty good guy– that is for someone who doesn’t even go to church.”  Jake knew Bill well enough to know he would not be angered by the remark.

     Bill replied, “Yes Jake, we’ve always had different viewpoints when it came to religion.  You always went to church and I never did.  You always said your prayers and I never saw any use in it.  But I know what I believe.  I believe in God and I have always tried to live a good life.  And I think that’s the most important thing.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

     Jake said, “Yes, Bill, that’s important.  In all the years you had your repair shop, there wasn’t a person in this town who wouldn’t trust you with their car.  And no one ever had any reason to complain about your service or your honesty.  And you’ve always been willing to give a helping hand, just like with these meals on wheels.  You are a good man, Bill.”

     Then Bill said, “I don’t have anything against the church, but if a man believes in God and does what is right, that’s all that matters.  And I’ve tried to bring my kids up right, too.  And I guess they are doing okay, even though they never went to Sunday School.”

     Jake replied, “That’s right, Bill, you do have some wonderful kids.  When I was on the farm and had to hire help, your two boys were always the best, and I always thought a lot of your daughter too.  You can be real proud of all three.  How are they all doing?  Have you seen them lately?”

     “Well,” said Bill, “we see the two boys quite often.  They don’t live too far away, and they make it back here every once in a while.  But I sure do miss my daughter Sally.  Her and her husband are doing fine, but ever since they moved out East we hardly ever see them.  They are so wrapped up in their business they don’t ever come here, and we’ve also had a hard time getting away from our business.  Maybe now that I’m retired it will be better.  But it’s hard.  You raise up a child, you see her every day for twenty years, and then one day she gets married and she’s gone, and the room is empty and the house is quiet.  We’ve seen her only four times in seven years.  We don’t even talk on the phone very often.  She never calls us and when we call there all we get is the answering machine.  We used to leave a message but we don’t anymore.  She never has time to call us back anyway.  I can’t tell you how much we miss her.”

     Jake said, “That is too bad.”  He paused, and then he said, “But you know Bill, I have to tell you something that just occurred to me.  You said Sally is doing fine, didn’t you?  She is a faithful and loving mother and wife and she’s honest and hardworking, all just like you brought her up to be, right.?”

     Bill said, “That’s right.  What are you getting at?”

     Jake went on, “You don’t see her very often, but she still believes you are her father, doesn’t she?  She hasn’t totally forgotten you, has she?”

     “Well of course not,” said Bill, “We get along just great when we see each other. We always did. Why are you talking so foolish?”

     Jake said, “A little while ago we were talking about another Father, our heavenly Father.  And you told me you believed in him and did what was right and that was all that mattered.  Well, Sally is doing that much.  You said she is living like you taught her to live, and that she still believes you are her father.  Well, that should be all that matters, right?  Then how come you miss her so much?  Why does your heart ache for her?  How come you think you have to talk to her and hear from her?  I know this sounds foolish, but here’s what I’m getting at.  In the same way as you want to hear from your daughter, God wants to hear from you and his heart aches for you when you ignore him.”

     “Come on Jake,” said Bill, “you know that’s different.”

     “No Bill,” said Jake, “It isn’t any different.  You think it is different only because you don’t know the heavenly Father very well.  God speaks in the Bible with the same kind of aching heart that you have.  The Old Testament prophets portrayed God as a Father who grieves over his beloved children that have turned away from him, and like a mother who cannot forget her children even thought they have forgotten her.  In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, God is compared to a loving father who rejoices at the return of his long lost son.  There are images like that all through the Bible, of God the Father grieving because his children ignore him.  You say you believe in God.  But what kind of belief is it that pays no attention to God, not in worship and not even in prayer; and saying a prayer is even easier than making a phone call.  I can understand that you want to hear from your daughter more often.  In the same way, God wants to hear from you.  He gave you life in an even more profound way that you and your wife gave Sally life.  He’s been with you for all of your 68 years, but he’s never heard much from you, and his heart aches for you.  Get back in touch with him, Bill.  He’ll be glad to hear from you, just like you are always glad to hear from Sally.  And if nothing else you could just say the Lord’s Prayer, you know, that one that starts out, “Our FATHER, who art in heaven…”  (continued…)

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Hosea 11:1-4  —  (God said), “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me.  It was I who taught (them) to walk, taking them by the arms, but they did not realize it was I who healed them.  I led them with kindness and love.  I bent down to feed them. (NIV, edited)

Hosea 11:7-9  —  (God said), “But my people are determined to turn from me…  Yet, how can I give (them) up?  My compassion is aroused.” (NIV, ed.)

Luke 15:18-20; From Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son.  —  (The son said), “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him:  Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.”
     So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

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OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN…  Our heavenly Father, you tenderly encourage us to believe that you are truly our Father and that we are truly your children.  Give us the faith to believe this, so that we may boldly and confidently come to you in prayer, even as beloved children come to their dear father.  AMEN.  —Luther’s Small Catechism

276) Permission to Marry

     One day many years ago, a young man wanted to marry a certain young woman.  The woman insisted, as was customary at the time, that the man ask her father to grant them his permission to marry.  The young man knew that the girl’s father was a good and kind man, but he was still very nervous about asking him this important question.  Finally, he talked to him. “Sir,” he said, “I would like to request your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

     The older man looked at him sternly and without speaking for a long time.  Finally he said, “Meet me here at my home at 3:00 tomorrow morning.  I would like to ask you a couple questions to see if you would be a suitable husband for my daughter.”

     At precisely 3:00 the next morning, the young man knocked on the door. The servant showed him into the living room, where the young man sat down and waited– and waited and waited. For five hours he waited. Finally, at 8:00 the older man walked in and proceeded to ask his questions.

     “Young man,” he said, “Do you know how to spell?” 

     “Yes, sir,” said the young man.

     “All right,” said the older man, “spell cat.”

     “Cat, C-A-T,” was the response.     

     “Good,” said the old man.  “Do you also know something about figures?” 

     “Yes, I know a bit,” said the younger man. 

     “Good.  What is two plus two?” 

     “Four,” replied the lad.

     “That’s splendid,” said the man’s future father-in-law getting up to shake hands.  “I would be most pleased to grant you my daughter’s hand in marriage.”

     The bewildered, but pleased young man left, and the girl’s father went in to tell his wife the news that their daughter would indeed be marrying that fine young man.  “But how could you tell anything after such a short conversation?,” asked his wife.

     “Well,” said the husband, “it wasn’t only what he said, but it was also what he did.  First of all, I was testing him on self-denial.  I told him to be here at 3:00 in the morning.  He left a warm bed and came out in the cold without a word of complaint.  Second, I tried him out on courtesy; and he was courteous enough to be here right on time.  Third, I examined him on patience.  I made him wait five hours to see me.  Fourth, I was testing him on irritability and resentment; and he did not show any sign of it, and did not even question my delay.  Fifth, I tried out his humility.  I asked him questions that a five year old could answer and he showed no pride or indignation.  And I also found out that he knows how to look for the best in people.  Last night I asked our daughter how he responded to having to come here at 3:00 in the morning.  She said he told her that he knew her father was good man, and even though the appointed time was unusual, he trusted there must be some good reason.  I found out a great deal about that young man, and I am convinced he will make a good husband for our daughter.”

     Even though the father had intentionally set up that unpleasant situation, it did serve to show him how the young man would respond to the many irritations that would inevitably be a part of marriage.  The young man responded with grace, trust, respect, courtesy, and patience, even though he did not understand what was going on; and that told the father everything he needed to know.

     In I Corinthians 13 we read that love is patient and it is kind.  Love also, it says, bears all things and endures all things.  Love, it goes on to say, is not irritable, it is not resentful, and it is not arrogant or rude.  And love rejoices in the right and does not rejoice in the wrong; or we might say, it does not insist on looking only for the bad in every situation and person, but looks also for the good.  Love will give another person the benefit of the doubt, as the young man did for his fiance’s father.

     When people are irritable, resentful, arrogant, and rude, those negative qualities described in I Corinthians 13, then conflict will always be present, even when problems are small.  That father knew that in a good marriage one needs to think the best, not the worst of their spouse, and to be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  There would be many times that young man would have reason to be irritable, but would need to be patient; times he would have reasons to be resentful, but would need to be understanding; times he could be offended or insulted, but would need to be gracious and have the ability to overlook a wrong done.

     A marriage is built on a firm foundation if it is built on the foundation of God’s love and God’s guide for love in the Bible.

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I Corinthians 13:4-5  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

I Corinthians 13:6-7  —  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I Corinthians 13:13  —  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

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A Wedding Prayer (Irish)

By the power that Christ brought from heaven, mayst thou love me.
As the sun follows its course, mayst thou follow me.
As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry,
As joy to the heart, may thy presence be with me,
Oh one that I love, ’til death comes to part us asunder.