344) Jesus Carried Our Sorrows (part one of two)

     In his book Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand tells the story of a priest who had been subjected to severe torture in the prisons of communist Romania in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Under torture, the priest had been forced to offer a mass in the prison for all to see, consecrating not bread and wine for the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but human bodily waste.  It was a most awful humiliation.  Wurmbrand afterwards asked the priest how he could do it, and why he did not prefer to die rather than perform such a blasphemous mockery.  And the priest replied, “Please do not judge me.  I have suffered more than Jesus Christ himself.”

     

     Richard Wurmbrand then did not judge the priest harshly, but expressed sympathy for the man’s predicament.  This was because Wurmbrand himself had endured such terrible torture for 14 years.  His crime was publicly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something that had been forbidden in Romania.  Being imprisoned for that long while your wife is home alone and your son is growing up without you is bad enough, but while in prison, Wurmbrand and many others were subjected to ongoing, vicious torture.  There were months of solitary confinement in a dark room, not even big enough to stand up in.  There would be times he was deprived of sleep for days on end, forced to stand upright in a coffin-like wooden box filled with dozens of nails pounded in from the outside and protruding into where he was forced to stand.  To sway even a little bit from exhaustion would mean leaning into these sharp nails.  Prisoners would be put naked into freezers, and then allowed to almost freeze to death.  Doctors would be on hand to carefully monitor their vital signs.  Then, when they were barely alive, they would be taken out of the freezer, and warmed up.  Then, when recovered, they would be put back into the freezer for another round.  Wurmbrand was always in chains.  Sometimes he would be lifted to the ceiling by his leg chains and would then be hung there on a hook, upside-down.  Guards would then beat him with clubs.  So Richard Wurmbrand had sympathy for this priest who broke down under such pressure and then allowed the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper to be so blasphemed by his own hands.

     But what about the priest’s comment?  He said, “Please do not judge me.  I have suffered more than Jesus Christ himself.”  It has often been said by those who have been persecuted for their faith that they were willing to suffer anything for Jesus because Jesus had suffered so much more for them.  The story of the suffering of Jesus in the last days of his life, and then on the cross, certainly has given strength to those who have suffered because they believed in or proclaimed that story.  But this priest said he suffered even more than Jesus.  What can we say about that?  On one level, that would seem to be the case.  The physical sufferings of Jesus, though extreme, were mostly confined to a 24 hour period.  He was arrested late on Thursday night, and by Friday evening he was dead.  The whipping, the beating, the carrying of his cross, the crown of thorns, and the crucifixion, all involved the most intense suffering– but it was confined to that one day.  But Richard Wurmbrand and the priest endured years of suffering, also to a most extraordinary degree.  They were not killed, but many times they would have preferred death rather than living to go on suffering like that year after year.  So if we speak only of physical suffering, that priest and Richard Wurmbrand, and many others, have suffered more than Jesus. 

     But there are other ways to suffer.  Think of how Jesus’ own mother was suffering at the foot of the cross.  She had not been whipped and she was not on that cross, but who would say she was not suffering as she watched the life slowly ebb out of her beloved son?  She had no nails in her hands and feet, but as had been predicted many years before when Jesus was just a baby, ‘on account of this child,’ said Simeon, ‘a sword will pierce your soul.’  She was now feeling that sword into the depths of her heart and soul.  If you’ve ever sat in a hospital waiting room after an accident or during a surgery, you also know something of this kind of suffering; or if you have ever stood by the bed of one who was very ill, very much in pain, or even dying, then you also know something of this kind of suffering.  When we consider the suffering of Jesus we must look at more than just the physical.  (continued…)

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Luke 2:34-35  —  Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:  “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

John 19:1-3  —  Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head.  They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!”  And they struck him in the face.

Matthew 27:45-46  —  From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.  About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”– which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

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O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life:  Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer

343) Combating the Spirit of Entitlement with Gratitude

From Randy Alcorn’s February 5, 2014 blog at http://www.epm.org

     In Exodus 13-15 God brings a startling multi-stage miraculous deliverance of Israel from Egypt.  It’s truly breathtaking, culminating in the miraculous dividing and crossing of the Red Sea, and the destruction of the powerful Egyptian army pursuing them.  If ever an intervention of God would be unforgettable, this surely was it.

     But before Exodus 15 is completed, Israel had already forgotten!  A few days of travel and they are thirsty.  This is understandable.  God is not insensitive to their needs or ours.  So do they fall on their knees thanking God for their deliverance, and humbly asking Him to provide them water?  No, they grumble and complain and whine, and accuse Moses, and indirectly, God.  (This passage proves that the spirit of entitlement did not begin in America, but we are perfecting it as an art form.)

     The people find water, but it’s bitter.  They complain further.  Moses throws the branch in the water, and it’s purified.  Grateful for the moment, they swear they’ll never doubt God or Moses again.  (Showing that we need more than periodic moments of gratitude, we need an ongoing spirit of gratitude to God that becomes the lens through which we view life.)

      The Israelites in the wilderness are similar to us.   When their circumstances are good, they see God.  But as soon as their circumstances turn bad, they forget Him and all they have to be thankful for.  It is as if present trials blot out and negate God’s past track record of faithfulness.

     Luke 17:11-19 tells the story of ten lepers who were all healed of their leprosy but only one of them returned to say “Thank you.”  He ran back to Jesus, praising God for His incredible goodness to him. Jesus asked him, “What happened to the other nine that were also healed?”  God preserve us from such ingratitude!

     Ingratitude is not just wrong thinking—it’s the source of endless wrong thinking.  An ungrateful person not only offends God, but is also the source of his own misery, and, a cancer to others, spreading his misery.  Ungrateful people are not only ungrateful to God but to their families and friends and co-workers and neighbors.  They’re ungrateful to their church leaders, and quick to judge and condemn everyone for falling short of their standards.  Others must be blamed for the injustices they have to put up with.  Everyone is at fault, including those who drive too slow or too fast, who steal that parking space they had their eye on, who grab up that sweater on sale they were looking at.

 

     We live in a culture where there is a spirit of entitlement—where we think we deserve all of these great things.  If something doesn’t go our way, we feel like we’ve been robbed and deprived.  And even when a person gets what they think they’re already entitled to, they’re not grateful for it.  After all, “I deserved it!”

     In contrast, Puritan pastor Richard Baxter wrote, “Resolve to be diligent in thanking and praising God.  If you cannot do it with the joy that you should, yet do it as you can….  Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better.  Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart.”  Baxter is right—expressing gratitude makes a grateful heart.  Children who learn to say thanks become more thankful.  Gratitude is a wonderful ‘perspective-shaping’ habit.

     Psalm 107 begins, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  Let the redeemed of the Lord say this.”  The psalmist details the sufferings of God’s people, wandering in desert wastelands, without homes, hungry and thirsty.  “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (v. 6).  For their deliverance he says, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things” (vv. 8–9).

     It is God’s will that you give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  This is something that is built into what it means to be a follower of Christ.  Thankfulness should draw a clear line between us and a Christless world.  If the same spirit of entitlement and ingratitude that characterizes our culture characterizes us, what do we have to offer?

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Psalm 107:1  —  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Luke 17:11-19  —  Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.  One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18  —  Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

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O Lord, you have given me so much.  I pray for one more thing– that you give me a grateful heart.  Amen.

–George Herbert

342) Making Beer for the Glory of God

A Stout Faith:  The Guinnesses of Ireland

Adapted from a March 17, 2014 article by John Stonestreet posted at http://www.breakpoint.org

     Today is St. Patrick’s Day (posted two days ago)…  and I’d like to tell you a story about something genuinely Irish that may surprise you.  I’m referring to Guinness stout beer.  Very few of those hoisting their beer glasses today will know about the Christian vision that animated the brewery’s founder, Arthur Guinness (1724 or 1725- 1803).

     The connection between “brewery” and “Christian vision” is the subject of a book, The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, by Stephen Mansfield, and a new article on the Breakpoint website by my friend Glenn Sunshine.  It’s part of his “Christians who Changed their World” series.

     As Mansfield documents, for people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, beer was “more than a pleasurable drink.”  For instance, the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, whom no one would characterize as hedonistic, “had plenty of beer for the voyage onboard.”  That’s because, like most Europeans, they drank beer “for fear of drinking water.”  And for good reason:  The water in most European cities well into the nineteenth century was unsafe to drink.

     That left people with two options:  beer, which was regarded as a kind of liquid food, or distilled spirits, in particular gin, which destroyed both bodies and souls.  And that’s where Arthur Guinness enters the story.  Guinness was influenced by John Wesley, who taught his followers to “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”  Guinness “recognized that he could use his wealth and the way he went about his business for the glory of God as surely as any money given at church.”

     The first part of Guinness’s mission was to produce a beer that could be substituted for the destructive distilled spirits.  Plus, his beer was more filling so folks would be less likely to get drunk.  The other part consisted on what Guinness did with the money he made from selling his product.  He became the governor of Meath Hospital, whose mission was the relief of the poor in the surrounding area.  He worked to abolish dueling among his peers.  And he “promoted Gaelic arts and culture as a mean of instilling an ennobling sense of heritage among his countrymen.”

     Perhaps the cause that best reflected his faith and social concerns was the founding of the Sunday Schools in Ireland.  He was convinced that offering a basic education for the poor, including the Bible, literacy and other subjects, offered them the best chance to avoid a life of crime.

     Guinness’ descendants maintained his commitment to doing good.  For example, in 1900 the brewery’s chief medical officer surveyed the homes of its workers and the people living in the nearby vicinity.  Appalled by his findings, he sought and obtained permission from the board to clean up the problems.  Hiring nurses, health workers, and providing decent housing cost a lot of money, but it was in keeping with the ideals espoused by Arthur Guinness.  As Mansfield reminds us, none of this would have been possible if Arthur Guinness “had not been skilled at brewing beer.”

     While craft microbrews may not be the next great mission field, all of us are called to integrate our Christian and professional lives in the way Arthur Guinness did.

File:Arthur Guinness.jpg

Arthur Guinness

For more on Aruthur Guinness and his descendants, go to Dr. Glenn Sunshine’s excellent article on Arthur Guinness at:

http://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/21381-christians-who-changed-their-world

Here is Dr. Sunshine’s response to the following question sent in by a reader: “Since alcohol is an addictive substance that is well known to lead many (not all) into tragic life experiences, does that cloud the virtue of [Arthur Guinness’s] generosity?”:

Consider the alternatives: gin, which was worse, or water which was polluted and unsafe to drink.  That, I think, is the best answer.  Historically, it is worth noting that Christians did not begin being completely against alcohol until Welch figured out a way to preserve grape juice without it turning to wine; he then spearheaded the effort toward total abstinence from alcohol.  Prior to that, and prior to water purification methods, complete abstinence was a difficult proposition at best.  It’s also worth noting that Scripture condemns drunkenness but not drinking alcohol per se.  In other words, like so many other things, it’s the misuse of alcohol that is the problem not alcohol per se.

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

Wine instead of water:

1 Timothy 5:23  —  Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Wine as a gift of God:

Psalm 104:14-15  —  (The Lord) makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate— bringing forth food from the earth:
   wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.

But also some cautions– don’t be led astray, don’t linger over it:

Proverbs 20:1  —  Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Proverbs 23:29-30a  —  Who has woe?  Who has sorrow? Who has strife?  Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises?  Who has bloodshot eyes?  Those who linger over wine…

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Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess:  Grant us grace that we may honor you with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

–1979  Book of Common Prayer

341) Prayers During Illness by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

FOR HIMSELF:

    O God, most merciful Father, who by many diseases hast admonished me of my approach to the end of life, assist me by thy Holy Spirit that I may look back upon the sinfulness of my past with pious sorrow, and effective repentance, that my resolutions of amendment may be rightly formed and diligently exerted; and, that I may serve thee with Faith, Hope, and Charity for the time which Thou shalt yet allow me, and finally to be received to everlasting happiness.  Amen.
 
FOR OTHERS:
    Almighty and most merciful Father, who does not afflict willingly the children of Men, and by whose will Dr. Taylor now languishes in sickness and pain, make this punishment effectual to those gracious purposes for which Thou sendest it.  Let it, if I may presume to ask, end not in death, but in repentance, let him live to promote thy kingdom on earth by the useful example of a better life.  But if thy will be to call him hence, let his thoughts be so purified by his sufferings, that he may be admitted to eternal happiness.   And, O Lord, by praying for him, let me be admonished to consider my own sins, and my own danger, to remember the shortness of life, and to use the time which thy mercy grants me to thy glory and my own salvation, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

    …Permit, O Lord, thy unworthy creature to offer up this prayer for Anna Williams now languishing upon her bed, and about to recommend herself to thy infinite mercy.  O God, who desires not the death of a sinner, look down with mercy upon her; forgive her sins and strengthen her faith.  Be merciful, O Father of mercy, to her and to me; guide us by thy Holy Spirit through the remaining part of life; support us in the hour of death and pardon us in the day of judgment, for Jesus Christ sake.  Amen.

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II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  

Psalm 31:7  —  I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. 
Lamentations 3:32-33  —  Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.  For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. 
 
Romans 12:12  —  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

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ANOTHER PRAYER FOR ONE WHO IS ILL and FOR US ALL:
    Almighty and most merciful Father, whose lovingkindness is over all thy works; behold, visit, and relieve this thy servant, who is grieved with sickness.  Grant that the sense of her weakness may add strength to her faith and seriousness to her repentance.  And grant that by the help of thy Holy Spirit, after the pains and labors of this short life, we may all obtain everlasting happiness through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

340) St. Patrick in His Own Words (part three of three)

Bringing Christ to the Irish

      Who am I, Lord, that you should appear to me and call me, so that today among the barbarians I might constantly and everywhere exalt and magnify your name, not only in good fortune, but even in affliction?  Whatever befalls me, be it good or bad, I accept it equally, giving thanks always to God who revealed to me that I might trust in him forever.  God will encourage me so that, even though ignorant and in my last days, I may still dare to undertake so wonderful a work.  I am one whom the Lord ordained to be a herald of his Gospel, to witness to all peoples to the ends of the earth.  

      It would be tedious to describe in detail all my labors one by one.  I will just tell briefly how the most holy God frequently delivered me from slavery, from trials with which my soul was threatened, from the traps men set for me, and from things I am not able to put into words.  I have God as my witness…  From whence came to me this wisdom which was not my own, I who had knowledge of God?  Whence came the great gift of knowing and loving God, even though it would mean I should lose homeland and family?

         We should fish well and diligently, just as the Lord teaches, saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  We spread our nets so that a vast multitude might be caught for God, and so there might be clergy everywhere who baptize and exhort a needy and desirous people.  Just as the Lord says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the end of time…”  In Hosea God says: “Those who are not my people I will call my people, and those not beloved I will call my beloved.”  So, now in Ireland, where they never had any knowledge of God but, always, until now, cherished idols and unclean things, they have become a people of the Lord, and are called children of God.

    So it is that even if I would want to go back to Britain, (and most willingly was I prepared to go to my homeland and kinsfolk…  God knows how strongly I desired this); I am bound by the Spirit, who witnessed to me that if I did so he would mark me out as guilty.  Not only that, but I fear to waste the labor that I began; and not I, but Christ the Lord, who commanded me to come to be with them for the rest of my life.  It is the Lord’s will that I stay, and he will shield me from every evil, so that I may not sin before him.  

    Thus, I should give thanks unceasingly to God who frequently forgave my folly and my negligence, for I did not easily assent to what had been revealed to me.  The Lord took pity on me thousands of times.  He saw within me that I was prepared, but that I was ignorant of what to do because many were trying to prevent this mission.  They were talking among themselves behind my back, saying, “Why is this fellow throwing himself into danger among enemies who know not God?”  They spoke not from malice, but from having no liking for the work…  As for the heathen among whom I live, I have always shown them trust.  God knows I did not cheat any one of them, nor even consider it, for the sake of God and his Church, lest I anger them and bring about persecution for all of us, and lest the Lord’s name be blasphemed because of me.

    Moreover, I spent myself for you so that you would receive me.  I went about among you and everywhere for your sake, in danger, even as far as the outermost regions beyond which no one lived, and where no one had ever gone before, to baptize, to ordain clergy, and to confirm people.  Conscientiously and gladly I did all this work by God’s power for your salvation.  One time when traveling, I and my companions were seized, and on that day they most avidly desired to kill me.  But my time had not yet come.  They plundered everything they found on us and fettered me in irons.  On the fourteenth day the Lord freed me from their power…

     I call on God as my witness upon my soul that I am not lying; nor would I write to you for it to be an occasion for flattery or hoping for honor from any one of you.  Sufficient is the honor which is not yet seen, but in which the heart has confidence.  He who made the promise is faithful…  I know most certainly that poverty and failure suit me better than wealth and delight, as Christ himself was poor for our sake…  I expect I could any day be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises.  But I fear nothing because of the promises of heaven, for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God who reigns everywhere.  As the prophet says: ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.’  I commend my soul to God who is faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity…  Therefore, I pray that God never separate me from his people whom he has won in this most remote land.  I pray that God gives me perseverance, and that he will allow me to be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing… 

     I entreat those who believe in and fear God; if you read this document composed by the obviously unlearned sinner Patrick in Ireland, that you do not ever ascribe to me and my ignorance anything that I achieved that was pleasing to God, but accept and truly believe that it was the gift of God.  This is my confession before I die.

Celtic Cross, Ireland

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Matthew 28:18-20  —  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”   

Mark 1:16-18  —  As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.  

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I bind to myself today to:
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,
   Against the snares of demons,
   Against the seductions of vices,
   Against the lusts of nature,
   Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
      Whether far or near,
      Whether few or with many.

–From St. Patricks’s Breastplate, attributed to St. Patrick in The Book of Armagh (9th century) 

339) St. Patrick in His Own Words (part two of three)

Ruins of St. Patrick’s Church, Wexford, Ireland
Patrick Escapes, Guided by a Voice
     And it was there that one night in my sleep I heard a voice saying to me, “…Soon you will depart for your home country.”  And again, a short time later, there was a voice saying:  “Behold, your ship is ready.”  But the sea was not close by (as I was to learn it was two hundred miles away), and I had never been there, nor did I know any person on the way.  But shortly thereafter I ran away and fled from the man with whom I had been for six years (as a slave).  I traveled, by the power of God who directed my route (I was afraid of nothing), until I reached that ship.  On the same day that I arrived, the ship was setting out from that place, and I told them on the ship that I wanted to sail with them.  But the steersman was displeased and replied in anger, sharply, “By no means attempt to go with us.”  Hearing this, I left them, and on the way I began to pray.  Before the prayer was finished, I heard one of them shouting loudly after me, “Come quickly because the men are calling you.”  And immediately I went back to them and they said to me, “Come, because we are admitting you out of good faith.”  And I had hopes that they would come to faith in Jesus Christ, because they were barbarians.  And so I went with them, and soon we put out to sea.

The Journey

     After three days we reached land, and then for twenty-eight days we journeyed through uninhabited country.  The food ran out and hunger overtook us.  One day the steersman said to me, “Why are we hungry, Christian?  You say your God is great and all-powerful, then why can you not pray for us?  Otherwise, we may perish of hunger.”  I said to them confidently, “Be converted by faith with all your heart to my Lord God, because nothing is impossible for him and everywhere he abounds.  Today he will send you food on your road until you are full.”  And with God’s help this came to pass.  A herd of swine appeared on the road before our eyes, and they slew many of them.  We remained there for two nights, and the men were full of meat and well restored; whereas before this many of them had fainted and would otherwise have been left half dead by the wayside.  After this they gave the utmost thanks to God, and I was highly esteemed in their eyes, and from that day on they had food abundantly.  On the journey God provided us with food and fire and dry weather every day, until on the tenth day we came upon people.

Recalled to Ireland by a Dream

     After a few years I was again in Britain with my parents and kinsfolk, and they welcomed me.  They asked me to promise that after the great tribulations I had endured I would not go anywhere else away from them.  But then one night in a vision, I saw a man whose name was Victoricus.  He came from Ireland bringing innumerable letters, and he gave me one of them.  In the beginning of the letter it said, ‘The Voice of the Irish,’…  and it said they were crying with one voice, ‘We beg you, holy youth, that you shall come and again walk among us.’  And I was stung intensely in my heart so that I could read no more, and thus I awoke.  Thanks be to God, because after so many years the Lord answered their prayers.  And another night I heard a voice say, ‘He who gave his life for you, he it is who speaks within you.’  And thus I awoke, joyful…

    Many gifts were offered to me, with weeping and tears, to keep me from going to Ireland, and those who offered the gifts were offended when I went against the wishes of a good number of my elders and went anyway.  But guided by God, I neither agreed with them nor deferred to them, and this was not by my own grace, but by God who is victorious in me and withstands them all.  All this was so that I might come to the Irish people and preach the Gospel.  And there I would have to endure insults from unbelievers, hear scandal of my travels, endure many persecutions to the extent of prison, and give up my free birthright for the advantage of others.  And if I should be worthy, I am ready to give even my life, without hesitation and most willingly, for His name.  I choose be devoted to God even unto death, if God grant it to me.  God granted me so much grace that through me many people were reborn in God and clergy were ordained everywhere for them.

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Acts 16:9-10  —  During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
 
Isaiah 6:8  —  Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”  And I said, “Here am I.  Send me!” 
 
Job 33:14-15  —  For God does speak– now one way, now another– though man may not perceive it.  In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds… 
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The peace of God be with you;
The peace of Christ be with you;
The peace of the Spirit be with you;
And with your children;
From the day that we have here today,
Until the day of the end of your lives.
–Irish Blessing

338) St. Patrick in His Own Words (part one of three)

The following introduction to St. Patrick is adapted from the author information at www.ccel.org
The meditations that follow are an edited paraphrase of the text of The Confession of St. Patrick also at that website.
    Saint Patrick (420?-March 17, 493?), the patron saint of Ireland, was born somewhere along the west coast of Britain in the little village of Bannavem, which has never been securely identified.  His father was Calpornius, a deacon, the son of Potitus, a priest (priests were allowed to marry until the 8th century).  Potitus was a Romanized Briton.  At the age of about sixteen, Patrick was captured by raiders with “many thousands of people.”  They were taken to Ireland and sold as slaves.  Patrick was sold to a Druidic chieftain named Milchu and was his slave for six years.
    Although he came from a Christian family, Patrick was not particularly religious before his capture.  However, his enslavement strengthened his faith.  He escaped at the age of twenty-two, returned to Britain, and was reunited with his parents.  Later, he became one of the first missionaries in Ireland, after a dream in which a man from Ireland asked him to return.  Although Patrick was not the first Christian missionary to Ireland, he was the first in many of the areas he worked, and tradition accords to him the most impact.  Patrick was one of the earliest writers to advocate the abolition of slavery.  Mythology credits him with banishing snakes from the island of Ireland, though others suggest that Ireland never actually had snakes.  Legend also credits Patrick with teaching the Irish about the concept of the Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leaved clover, using it to highlight the Christian dogma of ‘three divine persons in the one God.’  In The Confession of St. Patrick he tells his story.
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THE CONFESSION

Kidnapped by Pirates at age sixteen

    I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful, and most contemptible to many, had for my father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest.  We lived in the settlement of Bannavem where my father had a small villa near where I was taken captive.  I was at that time about sixteen years of age.  I did not then know the true God.

    I was taken into captivity and brought to Ireland with many thousands of people.  It was what we deserved, for we were quite drawn away from God.  We did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation.  And the Lord brought down on us his fury and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth.  There I, in my smallness, found myself among foreigners.

    There the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance.  He watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me and consoled me as a father would his son.  Therefore, indeed, I cannot keep silent, for so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity.  For after chastisement from God, and then returning to him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.    For there is no other God,… and he himself said through the prophet: ‘Call upon me in the day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me…’
   Embarrassed at Lack of Education

  Therefore, for some time I have thought of writing my account, but have hesitated until now, for truly, I feared to expose myself to the criticism of men.  I have not studied like others who have assimilated the Holy Scriptures, and, who have never changed their language since their infancy, but instead were always learning it, increasingly to perfection.  However, I was forced to learn and use a foreign tongue, so it is easy to prove from a sample of my writing, my poor ability and the limited extent of my preparation and knowledge.  But why make excuses, especially when now I am presuming to try to grasp in my old age what I did not gain in my youth because my sins prevented me?  But who will believe me, even though I should say it again?  As a young man, almost a beardless boy, I was taken captive before I knew what I should desire and what I should shun.  Consequently, today I feel ashamed and I am mightily afraid to expose my ignorance because I am not eloquent, and I am unable to explain as my spirit and soul and mind is eager to do…

    I am from the country and clearly unlearned; and before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire.  And then, He that is mighty came to me, and in His mercy raised me up and lifted me high and placed me on top of the wall.  And from there I will shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favors in this world and for ever…  Therefore be amazed, you great and small who fear God.  You men of God who are eloquent speakers, listen and contemplate.  Who was it that summoned me, a fool, from the midst of those who appear wise and learned in all things?  Though truly wretched in this world, he inspired me… to be one who, with fear and reverence, faithfully, and without complaint, would come to the people to whom Christ brought me, to serve them truly and with humility, in my lifetime.

    Therefore…, one should proceed without holding back to spread God’s name everywhere with confidence and without fear.  This is so that I may leave behind, after my death, foundations for those many thousands I baptized in the Lord.  I was not worthy that the Lord should grant me this, that after hardships and such great trials, after captivity, after many years, he should give me so much favor with these people, a thing which in the time of my youth I neither hoped for nor imagined.

Finds God While Herding the Flocks

    After I reached Ireland (as a slave) I used to pasture the flock each day, and I prayed many times a day.  More and more did the love of God and my fear of him and faith increase, and my spirit was moved so that in a day I would say up to a hundred prayers, and in the night a like number.  Also, I used to stay out in the forests and on the mountain, and I would wake up before daylight to pray in the snow, in icy coldness, and in the rain; and I used to feel neither ill nor any slothfulness, because, as I now see, the Spirit was burning in me at that time.
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I Corinthians 1:26-31  —  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”
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PRAYER ATTRIBUTED TO ST. PATRICK
May the Strength of God guide us.
May the Power of God preserve us.
May the Wisdom of God instruct us.
May the Hand of God protect us.
May the Way of God direct us.
May the Shield of God defend us.
May the Angels of God guard us.
— Against the snares of the evil one.
May Christ be with us!
May Christ be before us!
May Christ be in us,
Christ be over all!
May Thy Grace, Lord,
Always be ours,
This day, O Lord, and forevermore.  Amen.  

337) The Importance of Relaxation

From Randy Alcorn’s blog at http://www.epm.org/blog   February 21, 2014

     Like jackrabbits on a hot tin roof, some of us are never still—always doing, always going.  We strive to justify our worth by creating motion.  Do the laundry, plant the flowers, wash the floor, attend the meeting, make the phone call, plan the dinner… all worthwhile activities if we also stop long enough to breathe and think and grow and relax.

     Paradoxically, in an age of more leisure time, we take very little in a leisurely way.  We vigorously pursue our leisure time activities, turning play into work.  Remember when you were a child, how hours at a time were lost in the joy of play—discovering trees and trails and caterpillars and the new friend on the block?  Kids don’t need to justify playing.  It is its own justification.

     But as adults, we’re tyrannized by the ticking of the clock.  We frantically wrestle with life instead of sitting back to enjoy it.  Even our vacations are planned with the precision of a military maneuver (men are particularly guilty here).  “We’ll relax and have fun beginning tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. when we pack the car and hit the freeway.  We will then drive five hundred miles, stopping only for gas, food, and emergency bladder failures, and we will make every effort to synchronize these events.”  And we wonder why we and the kids get cranky on vacations!

     Feeling guilty about relaxing is self-defeating, isn’t it?

     The auto-maker never intended your car to run day and night, accelerator to the floor.  Your Maker never intended you to go nonstop either.  In fact, one of the Ten Commandments—right up there with no false gods, no murder, and no adultery—is a divine mandate to quit working and get regular rest (Exodus 20:8-11).

     God doesn’t just permit or recommend rest—He commands it.  Refusing to relax is not only unhealthy, it’s disobedient.  So this weekend, take time to relax.  And relax in the knowledge that doing so is God’s very best for you and your family.

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Exodus 20:8-11  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Psalm 62:5-6  —  Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

Matthew 11:28  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

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Show us your ways, O Lord, and teach us how to walk in your paths.  Guide us in your truth and teach us, for you are our God and Savior, and our hope is in you.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

336) The Tears of Jane Fonda

By Eric Metaxas at http://www.breakpoint.org , March 11, 2014

     Jane Fonda has to be one of the most polarizing people of her generation.  Those who are old enough can recall her movie career and can remember her in some roles that were pretty good, and some that were not so good.

     But others will remember her more serious, real-life role as so-called “Hanoi Jane,” when she supported the North Vietnamese Communist regime during the Vietnam War.  Many, in fact, have never forgiven her for sitting atop that North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun, nor will they forget.  She herself now calls this an “unforgivable mistake.”  And she has apologized profusely for it many, many times.

     Well, her story gets even more complicated.  Several years ago, Jane felt an emptiness in her life and began to be drawn to the Christian faith, even though her husband, CNN mogul—and atheist—Ted Turner, had said, “religion is for losers.”  She began reading the Gospel of John and was experiencing what she called reverence and grace.  Sadly, it seems, Jane drifted away from what I would humbly call “mere Christianity,” partly, she said, because she thought what she was learning in a Bible study was too “patriarchal.”

     Well, fast forward to 2014.  Jane, who is now 76, is no longer the Hollywood vamp, and her radicalism has certainly been tempered by time.  Only Jane and the Lord know where she is on matters of faith, but it seems clear that she is at least still searching.

     In a recent blog post she simply calls “Crying,” Jane confesses that she’s been brought to tears repeatedly in recent months.

     “How come,” she asks, “pretty things, kind deeds, sad stories, acts of courage, good news, someone’s [flash] of insight, all get me crying or, at least, tearing up?”  Her answer may surprise you.  “I find my emotions are way more accessible than they were when I was younger and I’ve come to feel it has to do with age,” Jane says. “I have become so wonderfully, terribly aware of time, of how little of it I have left; how much of it is behind me, and everything becomes so precious.”

     Whatever you think of Jane Fonda, these moving words are a powerful reminder of our shared humanity, our longing, and our mortality.  I can’t help but think of the words from Moses in Psalm 90:

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away…  So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

     By God’s grace, Jane Fonda’s words help remind us to number our days.  As she numbers hers, she has become increasingly grateful for God’s gifts in her life, whether she fully recognizes their Source or not.  “With age,” she says, “I am able to appreciate the beauty in small things more than when I was younger, perhaps because I pay attention more.  I feel myself becoming part of everything, as if I bleed into other people’s joy and pain… there’s the reality that in a few decades (if I’m lucky) I will be in the earth, fertilizing some of the very things I look at now and tear up over.”

     I pray that this woman of such talent and insight would reach out to the One who Himself wept over and voluntarily drank the bitter cup of death…  for her, for you, and for me!

     The beauty Jane Fonda is now seeing—beauty we see in creation, in the womb of an expectant mother, in the kindnesses we receive and give—should bring us all to tears, especially if we see them in light of God’s love for us and for His creation, if we see that every good and perfect gift is from above, from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17).

     May we be His lights in this dark world, gently wiping tears from the eyes of hurting and searching people everywhere—in Hollywood, or right next door.

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Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

James 1:17  —   Every good and perfect gift is from above,coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

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

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May God be in your head and in your understanding.
… in your eyes and in your looking.
… in your mouth and in your speaking.
… in your heart and in your thinking.
May God be at your end and at your departing.
                                            –Sarum Liturgy, England, late medieval

 

335) Mere Words on a Page?

     Sarah Weinstein was 11 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  Sarah, an American, was living in the Philippines where her father was working.  Japan was on a mission to conquer and rule all of Southeast Asia, and now, since America’s Pacific fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor, an invasion of the Philippines seemed inevitable.  Sarah’s father thought about quitting his job and getting back to the states, but did not do so in time.  The Japanese did invade and conquer the Philippines, and then, families like the Weinstein’s were unable to leave.  They were put into prison camps for no one knew how long.

     Sarah Weinstein told her story for a 2007 PBS documentary on World War II.  She described the grief and suffering of those three years of her life spent in that Japanese prison.  Conditions were crowded, food was scarce, and disease was rampant.  Many of her friends and neighbors died of disease, starvation, or despair.  All lived with constant hunger and unending boredom.  All day, every day, there was very little to eat and nothing to do.

     Worst of all, they lived with terrible uncertainty.  They were in the dark about everything.  They had no contact with the outside world.  They did not know how the war was going.  They had no idea if they would ever be rescued.  Would the Japanese win?  Had they perhaps already won?  What then?  Would they be stuck there forever?  Or, would the United States defeat the Japanese on the seas and then return to retake the Philippines; and if so, what then?  Would the Japanese allow the prisoners to be freed, or, would they kill them all before retreating?  This is not to even mention the fact that they knew nothing about their loved ones back in the states.  These civilian prisoners had constant physical suffering and unrelenting emotional distress day after day after day, with nothing to look forward to and no end in sight.  They might be liberated tomorrow, they might be killed tomorrow, or, they might just remain prisoners of the Japanese until one by one they all starved to death.

     Then one day occurred a most wonderful event.  An American plane flew overhead and dropped thousands of pieces of paper.  All waited and watched with great excitement and anticipation and the papers floated to the earth.  People grabbed the pages out of the air and began to read the great news.  The Americans were winning the war, it said, and Japanese forces were retreating all around the Pacific.  Hold on, it said, their liberators were on the way, and they would be there soon.

     Those pieces of paper changed everything, even though in their outward circumstances nothing had changed.  They were still in the prison camp, they were still hungry, the Japanese guards were still in control, and people were still dying.  The physical suffering remained unchanged.  But there was an incredible change in their hearts and their hopes and their spirits.  On that afternoon, Sarah Weinstein said that they were all on an emotional high like she would never experience again in her life.  In a moment, their despair turned into hope, the darkness was turned into light, their ignorance was turned into knowledge, and they had their lives and futures back.  They were still not out of danger, but in their joy they forgot even that.  They were filled with hope.  Everything was different.  They knew they would be going home.

     All that was accomplished by mere words on a page– but those words were backed up by the power of what had, during the war, become the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America.  The prisoners now knew that someone was coming for them, and they would be able to be free and live again.

     The Bible can be seen as nothing more than mere words on a whole bunch of pages.  But those words are backed up by the Lord God Almighty, Creator of the Universe; and that Lord says to you on those pages, that someone is coming, someone is coming to help you, to save you, to free you from the bondage to sin and death, and to take you home; someone who will change everything for you.  The changes might not all come right away, and will not come all at once, but, says the Bible, change is on its way, there is a better day coming, a better home ahead, an eternal home.  Now, you can live in hope and not fear.

     When you think about it, without those words on the pages of the Bible, our situation is very similar to the situation of Sarah Weinstein, and all those prisoners of war.  We all suffer in this life to varying degrees; friends and neighbors are always dying all around us; and we, like Sarah in the camp, do not know if we are going to be here for a long time, or if our time will end tomorrow.  Without what the Bible tells us, we have no idea what will happen to us when our time here is done.  Do we go on to some other place, and is that place better or worse?  Or, is our time here all there is, with no where else or nothing else to look forward to?  We live with all the same uncertainty as those prisoners, and many people endure daily suffering even worse than those prisoners.  The only thing we have that those prisoners did not have is more short-term opportunities.  We have the freedom to do many things and we need not face the unbearable boredom that those prisoners faced.  We can go to work.  We can turn on the TV.  We can get in the car and go places, we can read, play games, or shop.  All that can keep our minds off of our hopeless and uncertain situation. But without God, life is uncertain, and it is, in the long run, quite hopeless.

    The words on the pages of your Bible change everything.  Our outward circumstances may not yet change, and things may even get worse for us; but the promise remains.  So hold on, keep the faith, and stay hopeful.  Someone is coming for you, someone who loves you and cares for you and will give you all the best.  It won’t be long.

     Sarah Weinstein spent three long and difficult and painful years as a prisoner of war.  But then she was freed, and she has lived a lifetime since then.  She can now look back at those war years with a certain detachment, with gratitude, and can even remember some happy memories of the time.  She now has a whole different perspective on that time.  Those who believe in Jesus will one day, far into eternity, look back on our brief time here in this life with a new perspective, and all kinds of things that seem to matter a great deal now, will no longer matter even a little bit.  We will have received our release and the fulfillment of our hopes.

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Deuteronomy 32:71  —  They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.

John 6:63b  —  …(Jesus said),  “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”

John 6:68  —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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Gracious God, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from you.
Make us hungry for this, your Word, that it may nourish us in the ways of eternal life.
Through Christ Jesus, the bread of heaven.  Amen.  
(see Matthew 4:4 and Deuteronomy 8:3)