445) Prayers for Those in Charge

     By Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918).  He has been called the ‘Father of the Social Gospel Movement.”  From 1886 to 1897 he served as pastor of the Second German Baptist Church in the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ area of New York city.  Ministering in that neighborhood of extreme poverty, he realized that the church must address not only people’s spiritual needs, but also their physical needs.  He worked to do this not only by helping suffering individuals, but also by working for social change that would give people the opportunity to escape their poverty.  He has been called one of the most influential American religious leaders of the 20th century.  His passion to see God’s will done “on earth as it is in heaven” has inspired and influenced countless pastors and social reformers, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Tutu.  The prayers are from his 1909 book, For God and the People: Prayers of the Social Awakening.


Quotes from Walter Rauschenbusch:

The ideal of the Kingdom of God is not identified with any special social theory.  It means justice, freedom, fraternity, labor, and joy.  Let each social system and movement show what it can contribute.

The influences that really make and mar human happiness are beyond the reach of the law.  The law can keep neighbors from trespassing, but it cannot put neighborly courtesy and goodwill into their relations.

In a few years all our restless and angry hearts will be quiet in death, but those who come after us will live in the world which our sins have blighted, or, which our love of right has redeemed.  Let us do our thinking on these great questions, not with our eyes fixed on our bank account, but with a wise outlook on the fields of the future, knowing that God is seeking to distill from our lives some essence of righteousness before they pass away.


Leviticus 19:35  —  Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or quantity.

Proverbs 11:17  —  A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.

Matthew 6:24  —  (Jesus said), “No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”

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.

We invoke thy grace and wisdom, O Lord, upon all men of good will who employ and control the labor of men.  Amid the numberless irritations and anxieties of their position, help them to keep a quiet and patient temper, and to rule firmly and wisely, without harshness or anger.  Since they hold power over the bread, the safety, and the hopes of the workers, may they wield their powers justly and with love, as older brothers and leaders in the great fellowship of labor.  Do not allow the light of compassion for the weak and the old to be quenched in their hearts.  When they are tempted to follow the ruthless ways of others, and to sacrifice human health and life for profit, do thou strengthen their will in the hour of need, and bring to naught the counsels of the heartless.  Save them from repressing their workers into sullen submission and helpless fear.  May they not sin against the Christ by using the bodies and souls of men as mere tools to make things, forgetting the human hearts and longings of these their brothers.
Raise up among us employers who shall be makers of men as well as of goods… Give us men of faith who will see beyond the strife of the present and catch a vision of a noble organization of our work, when all will still follow the leadership of the ablest, not in fear, but by the glad will of all, and when none shall be master and none shall be man, but all shall stand side by side in a strong and righteous brotherhood of work.  Amen.

O God, we worship you as the Lord of humanity, and render free obedience to you because your laws are just and your will is love.  We pray for the kings and princes of the nations, to whom power has descended from the past; and for the lords of industry and trade, in whose hands the wealth and power of our modern world have gathered.  We pray that you save them from the terrible temptations of their position, lest they follow in the sad lineage of those who have lorded it in the past and have used the people’s powers for their oppression.  Suffer them not to waste the labor of the many for their own luxury, or to use the precious life-blood of men for the corruption of all…  Mature in their souls the unshakeable conviction that all they have is but held in trust for a time, till God shall claim his own…  Reveal to them that all the higher joys come only by imparting the strength of our life to those who need it, and that a man’s life consists not in the things which he possesses, but in the love that flows out from him and flows back to him.  Amen.

We plead with thee, O God, for our brothers and sisters who are pressed by the cares and beset by the temptations of business life.  We acknowledge before thee our common guilt for the hardness and deceitfulness of industry and trade which lead us all into temptation and cause even the righteous to slip and fall.  As long as man is set against man in a struggle for wealth, help the men in business to make their contest, as far as may be, a test of excellence, by which even the defeated man may be spurred to better work.  If any man is pitted against those who have forgotten fairness and honesty, help him to put his trust resolutely in the profitableness of sincerity and uprightness, and, if need be, to accept loss rather than follow on crooked paths.
May thy spirit, O God, which is ceaselessly pleading within us, prevail at last to bring our business life under Christ’s law of service… which blesses those who are the free servants of God and the people, and who consciously devote their strength to the common good.  Amen.

444) Funeral Sermon for Mabel, Who I Never Met

     In one of my previous congregations there was a lady named Helen who I visited at the care center where she lived out her final years.  Helen was never married and she had no children.  Helen was an only child, so she had no brothers or sisters, and no nieces and nephews.  Helen’s parents, who were long dead, were both also the only child in their families, so Helen never had any aunts and uncles, and no first cousins.  Helen’s parents had moved into the area from another state, so even the extended family was far away and quite unknown to Helen.  She knew of only one second cousin, but he was also in a care center and had Alzheimer’s disease, so there was no contact with him anymore.  And Helen was always a very quiet, reserved person, who made few friends, and all of them were dead.  So in her old age, Helen had absolutely no one left.   She was the most ‘alone’ person I ever knew.

     Well, that certainly is not a problem here today, is it?  Eleven children, 27 grandchildren, 43 great-grandchildren, and 14 great-great-grandchildren survive Mabel.  What a legacy she leaves!

     I did not know Mabel, and I do not know anyone in your large family, or how it goes your family.  But I also come from a large family, and I know how it goes for us.  It goes like this:  some of us have a close relationship, some of us are not close.  Most of us get along pretty well, some of us don’t get along at all.  Some of us are pretty good about keeping in touch, some of us see each other only at weddings and funerals.  Most of us are pretty common, down to earth folks, some are a little out there.  But still, for all of us, there is a deep connection, a common background, a whole host of shared memories, good and bad, and a sincere concern for each other’s well-being.  When one hurts, we all hurt.  When one has something good happen to them, we are all happy for them.  It’s probably much the same for you.

     As I said, we all have a deep connection and shared memories.  And the main common connection, the primary memories for those of you gathered here today is Mabel– your mother, grandmother, great- or great-great grandmother, or friend.  So you gather here to remember Mabel, to honor her memory, and to acknowledge the connection you all have with each other because of her.  And if it wasn’t for Mabel, a lot of you would not be here, or anywhere else, at all.

     Our gathering this morning is in a church, and being in church we are reminded of someone else, someone else to whom we are all connected, someone else without whom none of us would be here– and someone who wants to have a deeper connection to and a closer relationship with everyone he has created.  I read some of His words just a few moments ago. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said, “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.”  Believe in me, says Jesus, and you will have a connection that not even death can end.

     In John chapter 10 verse 11, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  It was a bold claim Jesus was making here, especially for his first listeners who were not yet sure about him being God’s Son.  His listeners were very familiar with that great Shepherd Psalm, the 23rd Psalm.  That Psalm was already a favorite 2,000 years ago.  In that Psalm David proclaimed his deep faith in God as his Savior and protector by saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  In John chapter 10, Jesus applies those words to himself, saying, “I AM the Good Shepherd.”  To some of Jesus’ listeners that day, it was an outrageous claim.  “He is demon-possessed,” said some in verse 20.  “He is raving mad,” said others.  But some believed in him, and to those Jesus gave the gift of eternal life.

     “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” Jesus said to his followers in John chapter 14.  “I am going there to prepare a place for you,” he went on to say, “and someday,” he said, “I will come back and I will take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be also.”

     “How can we know the way?” asked Thomas.

     “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me.”  It was to Mary, grieving the death of her brother Lazarus, that Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life; whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.”  Throughout the book of John, this Good Shepherd is offering life– life now, which is his gift, and life beyond the grave– to all who would believe in him.  In those opening verses of John 14 it is DEATH that Jesus is talking about, and yet, he doesn’t even use the word death, or any other unpleasant word or image.  Instead, Jesus says that He will be coming back for us, and he will take us to the home he has prepared for us.  That is what is means to have such a Good Shepherd who will always take care of us– always, now and forever.

     One of my earliest memories of faith is of a picture that hung in one of my very first Sunday School classrooms.  It was that familiar painting of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Pictured is a peaceful green valley, with hills on either side, and a quiet stream in the background.  Jesus is in the center, he is surrounded by sheep, and he is holding in his arms one little lamb.  I knew way back then, even as a child, what that picture was all about.  That lamb looked safe and secure in Jesus’ arms, and I knew that what that picture meant was that I too can be safe and secure in the arms of Jesus.  As one gets older, faith gets more complicated, and there are many questions and problems we come up against as we try to maintain faith in such a world as this.  A sudden, incurable and devastating cancer, that quickly ends the life of a loved one like Mabel can also challenge one’s faith in a loving God.  But even with all that, at its center, faith is still very simple:  We can be safe in the arms of Jesus, now and forever.

     Just don’t jump out of those arms.  I never held a lamb, but I have held squirming puppy dogs, and I did not want them to jump out of my arms because then they could get hurt.  So don’t jump out, don’t run away from Jesus, and don’t ignore Jesus.  Just be still, and rest in His arms.  There are no other offers on the table.  Believe in Jesus and you will have life, now and forever.


John 6:68b  —  …Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. 

Psalm 23:1a  —  The Lord is my shepherd…

John 10:11  —  (Jesus said), “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”


Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits Thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.  O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

–Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1197-1253)

443) “She Had God”


     Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a journalist and social activist.  Her parents rarely attended church, but Dorothy became active in an Episcopal church when she was a teenager.  She joined the Catholic church at the age of 30.  Along with Peter Maurin she founded the Catholic Worker Movement, which combined direct aid for the poor with non-violent activism on their behalf.  She is now being considered for sainthood in the Catholic church, though she once said, “Don’t call me a saint– I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”  

     In the following piece she recounts a formative childhood memory of a simple, faithful Christian witness (Meditations, pages 7-8):

     It was Mrs. Barrett who gave me my first impulse toward Catholicism.  It was around ten o’clock in the morning that I went up to Kathryn to call for her to come out and play.  There was no one on the porch or in the kitchen.  The breakfast dishes had all been washed.  These were long, narrow apartments, and thinking the children must be in the front room, I burst in and ran through the bedrooms.

     In the front room Mrs. Barrett was on her knees, saying her prayers.  She turned to tell me that Kathryn and the children had all gone to the store, and then she went on with her praying.  And I felt a warm burst of love towards Mrs. Barrett that I have never forgotten, a feeling 0f gratitude and happiness that still warms my heart when I remember her.  She had God, and there was beauty and joy in her life.

     All through my life what she was doing remained with me.  And though I became oppressed with the problems of poverty and injustice, though I groaned at the hideous sordidness of man’s lot, thought there were years when I clung to the philosophy of economic determinism as an explanation of man’s fate, still, there were moments when in the midst of misery and class strife, life was shot through with glory.  Mrs. Barrett, in her sordid little tenement flat, finished her breakfast dishes at ten o’clock in the morning, and then got down on her knees and prayed to God.


Psalm 84:5a  —  Blessed are those whose strength is in you…

Psalm 88:13  —  I cry to you for help, Lordin the morning my prayer comes before you.

Psalm 102:1  —  Hear my prayer, Lordlet my cry for help come to you.

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.


O Lord, give us a mind
that is humble, quiet, peaceable, patient and charitable,
and a taste of your Holy Spirit in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

O Lord, give us a lively faith, a firm hope,
a fervant charity, a love of you.

Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation and all dullness in prayer.
Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you,
your grace, and your tender compassion toward us.

Give us, good Lord,
the grace to work for the things we pray for. 

–St Thomas More (1478-1535)

442) “I Have Sinned”

By John Stonestreet, June 24, 2014, at:  www.breakpoint.org

Adriaan Vlok (1937- )

       Between 1986 and 1991, Adriaan Vlok served as South Africa’s Apartheid-era Minister of Law & Order and also sat on South Africa’s State Security Council.

     Vlok was behind many of the regime’s most repressive and drastic measures:  hit squads, bombings and assassinations of anti-apartheid activists.  The regime was desperate to stay in power in the wake of growing unrest at home and near-universal condemnation abroad.

      All of which makes Vlok’s post-apartheid story all the more remarkable.

      On August 1, 2006, he entered his old workplace in Pretoria and asked to see Frank Chikane, a minister and former anti-apartheid activist who was now serving in the government.  As Eve Fairbanks tells readers in the New Republic, Vlok and Chikane had some history:  Vlok tried to assassinate Chikane by lacing his underwear with “paraoxon, a potent insecticide.”  As comical as that sounds, the effects were no joke:  Chikane survived only after “advanced medical treatment” in the U.S.

     Why did Vlok want to see Chikane that day? Well, to ask forgiveness. Quaking as he stood before the man he tried to kill, he read from something he’d written on the front of his Bible:  “I have sinned against the Lord and against you.  Will you forgive me?”

     He then pulled a bowl out of his briefcase and asked if he could wash Chikane’s feet.

     A startled Chikane said “yes” and Vlok proceeded to wash his feet.  And, as Fairbanks put it, “both men dissolved into tears.”

     It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Vlok has had a powerful conversion experience.

     Reading Jesus’ words about leaving your gift on the altar and being reconciled to your brother prompted Vlok’s seeking forgiveness from his victims.  As he told Fairbanks, “I had to start making peace with my brother whom I had hurt.”

     And sadly, it also shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Vlok’s gestures have not been universally applauded.  His fellow white Afrikaners have labeled him “ridiculous,” a “quivering dog,” and a “traitor.”

     Still others insist he hasn’t gone far enough, even though he is rare among former government officials in suggesting that the white minority has something to apologize for.

     His change of heart even extends to his living arrangements:  When Fairbanks visited his home, she found two recovering alcoholics and a just-released prisoner living with him.

     Reading his story, what comes to mind is that it’s the kind of turnaround that only Christianity can produce.  It’s a story about repentance, forgiveness, humbling oneself, and, ultimately, restoration of what was broken.  Yes, forgiveness figures in other religions too, but Christianity uniquely marries forgiveness to restoration and newness of life.  As Fairbanks noted, Vlok’s conversion broke “his deep-seated sense of inner superiority.”

     This brash self-confidence, Fairbanks tells us, figures prominently in Afrikaner culture.  But in kneeling before Chikane, Vlok saw “the fundamental error of those beliefs.”  In their place was a willingness to serve those he once thought to be inferior, those he thought should be serving him.

     A black pastor whose feet Vlok washed called the experience “explosive,” one “that actually changed the whole church.”

     Fairbanks writes that Vlok’s “transformation has been so complete, it seems almost too good to be true,” something I remember hearing about my mentor Chuck Colson.

     But for those who know Jesus, it’s not too good to be true.  It’s what His Gospel is all about.  And we don’t all have to fly to South Africa to see it in action.  We should see it all around us, wherever we find Christ’s church.

Frank Chikane (1951- )


Exodus 10:16  —  Pharaoh quickly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you.”


Matthew 5:23-24  —  (Jesus said), “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”


John 13:1-5 … 12-17  —  It was just before the Passover Festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

     The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…

     When he had finished washing their feet, Jesus put on his clothes and returned to his place.  “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.  (NOTE:  Ever since this example set by Jesus at the Last Supper, the washing of another’s feet has become symbolic of Christian humility.)

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893)


Adriaan Vlok washing the feet of a man at a South African Reconciliation event


Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:12

441) The Martyrdom of Eleazar

From:  II Maccabees (Apocrypha), chapter 6

     In this chapter King Antiochus is persecuting the Jews in Jerusalem, commanding them to forsake their faith, or face torture and death.  An elderly scribe named Eleazar refuses to abandon his faith, and he faces death with courage and faith.  The Oxford Annotated Bible tells us this is the earliest of the ‘martyrologies,’ stories of the suffering and death of martyrs, recorded to encourage the faithful when persecuted.  This is believed to have been written in the first century B.C.  In the next century there would be many Christian martyrs, and there would be many such Christian martyrologies in that century, and every century since.  This is a paraphrase of the King James Version.

     Not long after this, the king compelled the Jews to depart from the faith of their fathers and not live according to the laws of God.  The Gentiles also polluted the temple in Jerusalem, calling it the temple of Jupiter.  The coming in of this evil was most grievous to the people, for the most holy temple was filled with wicked reveling by the Gentiles, who were even having their way with harlots in the sacred places.

     It became illegal for Jews to keep the Sabbath day or any of the ancient fasts.  In fact, it was even forbidden for anyone to profess himself to be a Jew.  But on the day of the king’s birth every month, the Jews were forced to take part in those sacrifices.  And when the fast of Bacchus was kept, the Jews were compelled to walk in procession to honor Bacchus.  Whoever would not conform themselves to these new laws should be put to death.  One can now see what misery they were in.  There were two women brought in who had circumcised their children.  These were led round about the city for all to see, the babies hanging at their breast.  Then, mothers and babies were thrown down off the top of the wall.  Others, who had gathered together in caves near by to keep the Sabbath day secretly, were discovered, and then were all burned to death together.  They were defenseless, because they would not fight to defend themselves on their holy day.

     Now I beseech those who read this book, that they be not discouraged by these calamities, but rather realize that those punishments were not meant to be for the destruction of, but for the discipline of, our nation.  For indeed it is a token of God’s great goodness when wicked doers are not left alone too long, but punished without delay.  For this is not as it always is with other nations, whom the Lord might wait patiently to punish, until they have piled sin upon sin, and receive then the most severe punishment.  Thus, God never withdraws his mercy from us.  Even though he may punish with adversity, yet, he will never forsake his people. But let this be a warning unto us.

     It was in these days that Eleazar, one of the most important scribes, an aged man and highly esteemed, was forced to open his mouth, and to eat the forbidden swine’s flesh.  But he, choosing rather to die honorably than to live with the guilt of such an abomination, spit it out, even though this meant he would have to endure the torture of his body being torn apart on the rack.

     But they that were in charge of that wicked feast were longtime friends of the old man.  So they took him aside and urged him to bring out some other kind of meat, something that was lawful for him to eat, and just pretend he had eaten of the flesh taken from the sacrifice commanded by the king.  Then, by doing so, and because of their old friendship, he might be saved from death.

     But Eleazar considered the honor of his gray head, and how ever since his education as a child, he had lived by the holy law made and given by God.  Therefore he answered accordingly, and he said that he would rather that they send him to the grave.  “For it is not wise,” he said, “to in any way be false about this, whereby many young people might think that Eleazar, being fourscore years old and ten, had now gone over to a strange religion.  And then they, because of my hypocrisy and desire to live a few moments longer, would be deceived by me; and I would add this disgraceful stain of sin and guilt to my old age.  For though in the present time I would be delivered from the punishment of men, I would not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither in this life or the next.  It is far better that I gladly give up my life now, and leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and courageously in obedience to God’s holy laws.”  And when he had said these words, he was immediately taken to the rack.

     The good will of those that had charge of him then changed into hatred because they thought that what he said was insane.  When he was about to die from the torture, Eleazar groaned and said, “The Lord knows that though my body might have been delivered from death instead of enduring this pain, my soul is well content to suffer these things, because I fear him.”  And thus he died, leaving his death as an example of a noble courage and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation.


Revelation 13:9-10  —  He who has an ear, let him hear.  If anyone is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go.  If anyone is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed.  This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints.

Revelation 14:13  —  Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

I Peter 5:6-11  —  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.  Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.


Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.  Abide with us and with thy whole church.  Abide with us in the end of the day, in the end of our life, in the end of the world.  Abide with us by thy grace and bounty, by thy holy Word and Sacrament, by thy comfort and thy blessing.  Abide with us when there cometh over us the night of affliction and fear, the night of doubt and temptation, the night of bitter death.  Abide with us and with all thy faithful, through time and eternity.  Amen.

440) What’s New?

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.  –Ecclesiastes 1:9


I have believed myself restating ancient and orthodox doctrines.  If any parts of this book are ‘original,’ in the sense of being novel or unorthodox (or new), they are against my will and as a result of my ignorance.  –C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, prologue

I was not writing to expound something I could call ‘my religion,’ but to expound ‘mere’ Christianity, which is what it is and was what it was long before I was born and whether I like it or not.  –C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


“The best compliment anyone could ever give me is that I never said anything new.”  –source lost


Someone wrote this in a review of my last book:  “Dr. Willimon’s book is engagingly written and well stated, but the informed reader will find nothing new here.”  Nothing new?  To be accused of saying nothing new is the kiss of death for a scholar!  But not for prophets of God…  (For example), Martin Luther King, Jr. did not come preaching something new; he came shouting something we already knew:  “You have said in your own Declaration of Independence, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights.’  And I insist that you either live by what you already know, or else be unfaithful to your own Constitution…”  He preached our sermon. 

You may be surprised to hear a preacher say this, but here it is:  You already know all you need to know about religion!

–William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, vol. 36, No. 2.


“All the good maxims already exist in the world.  We just fail to apply them.”  –Blaise Pascal, Pensees


Jeremiah 6:16  —  This is what the Lord says:  “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

Job 8:8-10  —  “Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.  Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”

Proverbs 1:7  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

2 Thessalonians 2:15  —  So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.


Grant us, O God, to hear thy voice; and in hearing thy voice, to love thy Word; and in loving thy Word, to do thy will.  Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.  

–Paul Sherer, Love is a Spendthrift,  (1892-1969)

439) False Security

By Johann Gerhard (1582-1637), a German Lutheran pastor and professor of theology.  He wrote dozens of books, including Sacred Meditations, a collection of 51 meditations published in 1606.  This piece was taken from the chapter 29 of that book. 

     An angel fell even in the presence of God.  Adam and Eve fell into sin even in that delightful home in which God placed them.  Solomon was the wisest of men (I Kings 3:12), yet he was led away from the Lord through the enticements of the flesh (I Kings 11:3).  Judas belonged to the very circle of Christ’s disciples (Luke 22:3), and was under the daily instruction of that greatest of all teachers, and yet he was not safe from the snares of the devil.   David was a man after God’s own heart (I Samuel 13:14), and was as a most precious son, but through the awful sins of adultery and murder, he made himself a son of death (II Samuel 12:5).  

     Where then in this life is there real security against falling into sin?  Cling to the promises of God, and you shall be safe from the assaults of the devil.  There can be no security in this life, except that afforded by the sure promises of God’s word to those who believe and walk in the way of the Lord.  When we finally attain the blessedness of heaven, then we shall enjoy perfect security.  But in this life, fear and religion have a close connection, and there ought not be one without the other…

     Happy you are, indeed, if you take all care to avoid a careless indifference, that cause of so many evils.  God will not forsake you, but take good heed lest you forsake God.  God has bestowed his grace upon you, pray that he may also give you perseverance unto the end.  God so orders the economy of grace that we may have assurance of our salvation, and yet not in such a way that one may indulge in false self-security.  You must fight the good fight of faith bravely, that in time you may triumph gloriously. 

     Your own flesh within you fights against you, and is a formidable enemy because of it being so much nearer to you than the others.  The world around you fights against you, and that is a formidable enemy to you because it is so much more abundant in its allurements.  And the devil above you fights against you, and is a more formidable enemy than any other because he is so much more powerful.

     In the strength of God you need not fear to engage with all these enemies, and by that strength you shall gain the victory.  But such enemies as these you will never conquer by a mere sense of security, but by waging an incessant warfare against them.  Life is the time to fight this fight of faith; and when you are apparently unconscious of the conflict, you are in more peril from the assaults of these foes; for when they seem to be observing a truce, then they are really massing their forces for a more powerful attack on your soul.  They are vigilant, and are you sleeping?  They are preparing to do you harm, and will you not prepare to resist them?


Matthew 26:41  —  (Jesus said), “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

1 Corinthians 10:12  —  If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 

 1 Peter 5:8-11  —  Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

2 Timothy 4:7  —  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

We are weak and weary, O God, and the temptations of the devil and the world are great and many.  We pray that you keep us strong and faithful, so that we do not fall into temptation and sin.  Give us the grace to remain steadfast and fight bravely to our end; for without your grace and help we can do nothing.  Amen.

 –Martin Luther

438) On Knowing What is Most Important

 A philosopher was being ferried across a big river in a small boat.  He asked the boatman, “Do you know any philosophy?”

The boatman replied, “No, I do not.”

“That is most unfortunate,” said the philosopher, “for that means you are missing out on a third of your life.”  Then said the philosopher, “Do you know any literature?”

“No, sir,” said the boatman, “I do not even know how to read.”

“That is most unfortunate,” said the philosopher, “for that means you are missing out on two-thirds of your life.”

Just then, the boat hit a large rock and started to sink.  “Do you know how to swim?,” the boatman asked the philosopher.

“No,” replied the philosopher.

“That is most unfortunate,” said the boatman, “for that means you are going to miss out on all of the rest of your life.”


     Knowledge is to be valued according to its usefulness.  It is ten thousand times more desirable to know how to order our hearts and lives, how to walk with God, and how to obtain everlasting life, than to know how to get riches and pleasures and vain glory in the present world.

     What good does it do a worldly and ungodly soul that will be lost forever to be able to discourse on “Cartesius’s Materia Subtilis,” or look at the planets through Galileo’s telescope; while he casts away all his hopes of heaven by his unbelief, preferring the pleasures of his flesh?  Will it comfort a man who is cast out of God’s presence and condemned to utter darkness to remember that he was once a good mathematician or musician, or that he had the wit to get riches and privileges in the world, or was able to climb to the height of honor and dominion?  It is a pitiful thing to see a man take pride in his wit and position, while he insanely rejects his only chance at true happiness; forsaking God, esteeming vanity, and damning his soul.  May the Lord deliver us from such wit and learning.

–Richard Baxter (1615-1691) (paraphrased)


Luke 10:38-42  —  Now it came to pass, as they went, that he (Jesus) entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?  Bid her therefore that she help me.”

And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”   


1 Corinthians 1:18-29  —  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

     Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?...  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

     Brothers and sisters, 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.  God 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.


My Lord and my God, take from me all that keeps me from you.

My Lord and my God, grant me all that leads me to you.

–Nicholas of Flue 

437) Samuel Johnson on Growing Old


Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)


We entangle ourselves in business and immerse ourselves in luxury,… until the darkness of old age begins to invade us, and disease and anxiety obstruct our way.  We then look back upon our lives with horror, with sorrow, with repentance; and too often vainly wish that we had not forsaken the ways of virtue.       —Rambler #65 (1750)
 We shall all by degrees certainly be old, and therefore we ought to inquire what provision can be made against that time of distress; what happiness can be stored up against the winter of life; and how we may pass our latter years with serenity and cheerfulness…  Faith in God is the only proper and adequate relief of decaying man.  He that grows old without religious hopes, as he declines into imbecility, and feels pains and sorrows incessantly crowding upon him, falls into a gulf of bottomless misery, in which every reflection must plunge him deeper, and where he finds only new gradations of anguish and precipices of horror.    —Rambler #69 (November 13, 1750)
 It may be observed in general that the future is purchased by the present.  It is not possible to secure distant or permanent happiness but by the forbearance of some immediate gratification.  This is so evidently true with regard to the whole of our existence that all precepts of theology have no other tendency than to enforce a life of faith; a life regulated not by our senses but by our belief; a life in which pleasures are to be refused for fear of invisible punishments, and calamities sometimes to be sought, and always endured, in hope of rewards that shall be obtained in another state. —Rambler #178 (November 30, 1751)
 To men of hardened hearts, God is not inattentive.  They are often called to the remembrance of their Creator, both by blessings and afflictions; by recoveries from sickness, by deliverances from danger, by loss of friends, and by miscarriage of transactions.   –Sermon III

Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. 


    O Lord, who hast ordained labor to be the lot of man, and seest the necessities of all thy creatures, bless my endeavors.  Feed me with food convenient for me, and if it shall be thy good pleasure to entrust me with plenty, give me a compassionate heart, that I may be ready to relieve the wants of others.  Let neither poverty nor riches estrange my heart from Thee, but assist me with thy grace so to live as that I may die in thy favor…  Grant that I may use thy gifts to thy glory.  Forgive me the time misspent, relieve my perplexities, strengthen my resolution, and enable me to do my duty with vigor and constancy.  And when the fears and hopes, the pains and pleasure of this life shall have an end, receive me to everlasting happiness.  Amen.


436) An Illegal Hymn


 Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

    One of the best known of all hymn verses is what is often called the Doxology, written in 1674 by Englishman Thomas Ken:

    Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise him, all creatures here below
Praise him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

     Many congregations sing this at every service.  It has been said that this one verse has done more to teach the doctrine of the Trinity than all the theology books ever written.  The four lines usually stand alone, but they were originally written as the last verse of two longer hymns.

     Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the first person in many centuries to write hymns for the congregation to sing at worship.  Previous to that, the congregation would sing only Psalms from the Bible, rephrased and put to music.  Luther argued that the devil should not be allowed to have all the good music, so in about 1525 he began writing popular hymns for congregational singing.  

     A little more than a hundred years later, Thomas Ken was born in a suburb of London.  Hymn singing had not yet caught on in England– in fact, it was illegal.  But Thomas Ken was not one to let the law get in the way of his convictions, so he wrote hymns anyway.  He was, for a time, the chaplain at a boys school, and he wrote two hymns for the boys’ devotions:  one for them to sing for their morning devotions, Awake, My Soul, and With the Sun for them to sing for their morning devotions, and, All Praise to Thee, My God, This Night for evening devotions.  The Doxology was the last verse of each of these hymns.  In order to avoid trouble, Ken told the boys to sing the hymns only in the privacy of their rooms.  Years later when hymn singing became legal, these morning and evening hymns became among the most popular in all England, and the Doxology, one of the most widely used verses of all time.

     Ken was a gifted preacher and rose through the ranks of church authority quickly.  He became a bishop as a young man, and even served in the palace of the king on various occasions.  But Bishop Ken’s plain-spoken condemnation of sin got him into trouble over and over again.  He would often denounce the corrupt lives of those in authority, including the king for his many mistresses.  Some of the rulers appreciated such boldness in a preacher, and some did not.  So over the years Thomas Ken went back and forth, one year serving as chaplain to the king’s court, the highest position in the land for a clergyman; and the next year being imprisoned in the Tower of London for his convictions.  Knowing that Jesus was his real King, Ken would not go against the command of Jesus to bow to any earthly king.  He was offered earthly comfort, fame, and authority; but when speaking the truth meant forsaking all of that, he spoke the truth. 

     Thomas Ken was a courageous preacher, and in those days those who spoke the truth to the king were often executed.  But Ken was too well liked to execute, so finally he was sent to serve in an obscure little parish, far from the center of power and all the important people.  He was more than happy to serve the remaining years of his ministry there.  When he died in 1711 at the age of 74 he asked for no special honors.  His only request was that six of the poorest men in the parish would carry his coffin from the church to his grave.  After his death it was said of him that he “came as near to the ideal of Christian perfection as human weakness permits.”


Psalm 67:8 —  Praise our God, all peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard.

Psalm 43:5  —  Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Revelation 19:5  —  Then a voice came from the throne, saying:  “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!”



Hear it sung at:


All praise to Thee, my God, this night,
For all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
Beneath Thine own almighty wings.

Forgive me, Lord, for Thy dear Son,
The ill that I this day have done,
That with the world, myself, and Thee,
I, ere I sleep, at peace may be.

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die, that so I may
Rise glorious at the judgment day.

O may my soul on Thee repose,
And with sweet sleep mine eyelids close,
Sleep that may me more vigorous make
To serve my God when I awake.

When in the night I sleepless lie,
My soul with heavenly thoughts supply;
Let no ill dreams disturb my rest,
No powers of darkness me molest.

O when shall I, in endless day,
For ever chase dark sleep away,
And hymns divine with angels sing,
All praise to thee, eternal King?

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.