435) Abraham Lincoln on God and Doing What is Right

In regard to this great book (the Bible), I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to men.  All the good the Savior gave to the world is communicated through this book.  But for it could we not know right from wrong.  All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.

Let us have faith that Right makes Might, and in that faith, let us to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

I am not at all concerned about that, that the Lord is on our side in this great struggle, for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right; but it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation may be on the Lord’s side.

God selects his own instruments, and sometimes they are queer ones; for instance, he chose me to steer the ship through a great crisis.

‘A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall.’  So with men.  If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.  Therein is a drop of honey which catches his heart which, say what he will, is the high road to his reason.

The true rule, in determining to embrace or reject anything, is not whether it have any evil in it, but whether it have more of evil than of good.  There are few things wholly evil or wholly good.

The power of hope upon human exertion and happiness is wonderful.

Men are not flattered by being shown that there is a difference of purpose between the Almighty God and them.

Bless all the churches, and blessed be God who, in this our great trial, giveth us the churches.

Surely God would not have created such a being as man, with an ability to grasp the infinite, to exist only for a day!  No, no, man was made for immortality.

How true it is that ‘God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,’ or in other words, that he renders the worst of human conditions tolerable, while he permits the best to be nothing better than tolerable.

It is no pleasure to me to triumph over anyone.

I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.

I should be the most presumptuous blockhead upon this footstool if I for one day thought that I could discharge the duties which have come upon me since I came to this place without the aid and enlightenment of One who is stronger and wiser than all others.

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

Galatians 1:3-5  —  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Philippians 1:21  —  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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A PRAYER THAT WE MAY PROPERLY RESPOND TO GOD’S WORD:
Let not thy Word, O Lord, become a judgment upon us, that we hear it and do it not, that we know it and love it not, that we believe it and obey it not.  Amen.  — Thomas a Kempis

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P. S.  

“Not all internet quotes are accurate.”   –Abraham Lincoln

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434) Plain Advice for Plain People

From John Ploughman’s Talks: Plain Advice for Plain People,

by Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), English preacher and author, 1869.

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When we are injured, we are bound as Christians to bear it without malice; but we are not to pretend that we do not feel it, for this will but encourage our enemies to kick us again.  He who is cheated twice by the same man is half as bad as the rogue; and it is very much so in other injuries.  Unless we claim our rights, we are ourselves to blame if we do not get them.  Paul was willing to bear stripes for his Master’s sake, but he did not forget to tell the magistrates that he was a Roman; and when those gentlemen wished to put him out of prison privately, he said, “Nay, verily, let them come themselves and fetch us out” (Acts 16:37).  (Chapter 4)

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With children, you must mix gentleness with firmness; they must not always have their own way, but they must not always be thwarted.  Always give to a pig when it grunts, and to a child when it cries, and you will have a fine pig and a spoiled child.  (Chapter 4)

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Never bind up a man’s head before it is broken, or comfort a conscience that makes no confessions.  (Chapter 11)

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We must try to state the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  If we begin calling eleven inches a foot, we shall go on till we call one inch two feet.  If we call a heifer a cow, we may one day call a mouse a bull.  Once you start exaggerating you have left the road of truth, and there is no telling where the crooked lane may lead you to.  He who tells little lies will soon think nothing of great ones, for the principle is the same.  (Ch. 20)

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I would not choose to go where I should be afraid to die, nor could I bear to live without a good hope for the hereafter.  I would not choose to sit on a barrel of gunpowder and smoke a pipe, but that is what those do who are thoughtless about their souls while life is so uncertain.  (Chapter 21)

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Don’t be whining about not having a fair start…  Money you earn yourself is much sweeter than any you might inherit.  A scant breakfast in the morning whets the appetite for a feast later in the day. Your present want will make future prosperity all the sweeter…

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As to a little trouble, who expects to find cherries without stones or roses without thorns?  He who would win must learn to bear.  Idleness lies in bed sick, where industry finds health and wealth.  The dog in the kennel barks at the fleas, the hunting dog does not even know they are there.

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To the young the road up the hill may be hard, but at any rate it is open.  They who set a stout heart against a stiff hill shall climb it yet.  What was hard to bear is sweet to remember. (Chapter 22)

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If you want to do good in the world, the little word “Try” comes in again.  There are plenty of ways of serving God, and some that will fit you exactly as a key fits a lock.  Don’t hold back because you cannot preach in St. Paul’s; be content to talk to one or two in a cottage.  Very good wheat grows in little fields…  Do what you do right thoroughly, pray over it heartily, and leave the result to God.  (Chapter 22)

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They say that man is the god of the dog, and if that is so, those men must be worse than dogs who will not listen to the voice of God, for a dog knows how to obey its master’s whistle. (Chapter 24)

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I would want everybody to be able to read, write, add, and subtract; indeed, I don’t think a person can know too much.  But the knowing of these things is not education.  There are millions of educated people who are as ignorant as a calf that does not know its own mother.  To know how to read and write is like having tools to work, but if you don’t use these tools, along with your eyes and your ears, you will be none the better off.  Everybody should know what most concerns him, and is used most by him.  If cats can catch mice and hens can lay eggs, they know what they need to know.  It is little use for a horse to know how to fly; it will do well enough if it can trot.  A man on a farm ought to learn all that belongs to farming, a blacksmith should study a horse’s foot, a dairymaid should be well up on skimming the milk and making the butter, and a homemaker should be a good scholar in the sciences of boiling and baking, washing and mending.  Those men and women who have not learn the duties of their callings are very ignorant people, even if they can tell the Greek name for a crocodile or write a poem about a black beetle.  It is too often very true that, “Jack has been to school, to learn to be a fool.”  (Chapter 24)

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James 1:22  —  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.

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.

Proverbs 17:9  —  Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

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I am heartily sorry, and beg pardon for my sins; especially for my little respect and for wandering in my thoughts when in your presence; and for my continual infidelities to your graces; for all which I beg pardon, by the merits of the blood you shed for them.  Amen.
–Lady Lucy Herbert (1669-1744)

433) “Mother, What is it Like to Die?”

An experience Peter Marshall (1902-1949), the great Scottish preacher, related during his ministry, from A Man Called Peter, by Catherine Marshall,  pp. 230-231, 272-273:

     On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Peter Marshall preached to the regiment of midshipmen in the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  A strange feeling which he couldn’t shake off led him to change his announced topic to an entirely different theme based on James 4:14:  “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  In the chapel before him was the December graduating class, young men who in a few days would receive their commissions and go on active duty.  In that sermon titled Go Down Death, Peter Marshall used this illustration:

     In a home of which I know, a little boy—the only son—was ill with an incurable disease.  Month after month the mother had tenderly nursed him, read to him, and played with him, hoping to keep him from realizing the dreadful finality of the doctor’s diagnosis.  But as the weeks went on and he grew no better, the little fellow gradually began to understand that he would never be like the other boys he saw playing outside his window.  Small as he was, he began to understand the meaning of the term death, and he knew that he was going to die.

     One day his mother had been reading to him the stirring tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table:  of Lancelot and Guinevere and Elaine, the maid of Astolat, and of that last glorious battle in which so many brave knights met their death.

     As she closed the book, the boy sat silent for an instant, and then asked the question that had been weighing on his heart:  “Mother, what is it like to die?”  Quick tears sprang to her eyes and she fled to the kitchen supposedly to tend to something on the stove.  She knew it was a question with deep significance.  She knew it must be answered satisfactorily.  So she leaned for an instant against the kitchen cabinet, her knuckles pressed against the smooth surface, and breathed a hurried prayer that the Lord would tell her how to answer him.

     And the Lord did tell her.  Immediately she knew how to explain it to him.

     “Kenneth,” she said as she returned to the next room, “you remember when you were a tiny boy how you used to play so hard all day that when night came you would be too tired even to undress, and you would tumble into mother’s bed and fall asleep?  That was not your bed.  It was not where you belonged.  And you stayed there only a little while.  In the morning, much to your surprise, you would wake up and find yourself in your own bed in your own room.  You were there because someone had loved you and taken care of you.  Your father had come—with big strong arms—and carried you away.  Kenneth, death is just like that.  We just wake up some morning to find ourselves in the other room—our own room where we belong in heaven—because the Lord Jesus loved us and carried us there.”

     After Peter Marshall had finished the service at Annapolis and as he and his wife Catherine were driving back to Washington that afternoon, suddenly the program on the car radio was interrupted.  The announcer’s voice was grave:  “Ladies and Gentlemen.  Stand by for an important announcement.  This morning the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was bombed…..”

     Within a month many of the boys to whom Peter Marshall had just preached would go down to hero’s graves in strange waters.  Soon all of them would be exposed to the risks and dangers of war, and Peter Marshall, under God’s direction, that very morning had offered them a defining metaphor about the reality of eternal life.

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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.” 

John 14:1-3  —   (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

And if I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.  Amen.

–Classic children’s bedtime prayer from the 18th century

432) Sickness Unto Death; First Century and Today

The Raising of Lazarus, Rembrandt, approx. 1630

From my sermon at the funeral of my mother-in-law, November 5, 2010.  The sermon text is John 11:1-44.

     John chapter 11 begins with these words, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.”  JoAnn’s family in this past year has seen plenty of what that can be like.  JoAnn was so sick, and suffered so much.

     Verse three then tells us that the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”  ‘Sent word,’ made an appeal, to Jesus on behalf of their dear brother, who was also Jesus’ own good friend.  We too, made an appeal to Jesus, we prayed, and JoAnn prayed; first that the cancer would not be serious, and then, even when the diagnosis was as bad as it could get, prayers were said for a miracle.  God can do miracles, you know, when and where he so chooses.  The Bible doesn’t say anything about having to check first with the doctor’s report to see what we can pray for.  We can pray for whatever we want, like little children making an appeal to their parents.  But then, also like children, we trust and we wait and we accept, whatever it is that our Heavenly Father chooses to do for us.  And then we pray like Jesus himself taught us to pray, and we say, ‘thy will be done.’

     What was the response of Jesus to this urgent appeal on behalf of his good friend?  His response is confusing.  First, Jesus said the illness would not result in death.  Yet, he did not go to the home of Lazarus.  Verse six says that Jesus stayed where he was for two more days.  Jesus, who was friend of Lazarus; Jesus, the one on whom all were depending, did not answer right away.  He delayed his departure.  Finally, after a couple days, he was ready to go; but then he said to his disciples, “Lazarus is dead.”  His disciples must have wondered about that.  Jesus had healed so many people.  He was able to do it.  Why not even try to get there to help his good friend?  Why?  This is a common question, often asked at times like this.  I have heard it asked by several of you: ‘Why must JoAnn’s suffering go on and on?  Why doesn’t God answer our prayers?’  Once again, the events of this old, old story are not so far from life as we experience it.  We face the same problems and the same questions. 

     Finally, Jesus arrived at Bethany where Lazarus had lived.  Lazarus had by now been dead and buried four days already.  Family and friends were still coming to visit Mary and Martha, trying to bring to them a bit of comfort in their grief.  But their dear brother Lazarus was dead, and no one could do anything about that.  They felt the same helplessness and hopelessness we feel when the doctors say there is no more they can do, when you sit by the side of a loved one in their last days, or when you get the word that death has come.  Even with all that modern medicine can do, the time of helplessness still comes.  Old age, illness, and finally death still get their way with us– every time.

     Then Jesus speaks again, saying “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me though he die, yet shall he live again.”  Jesus speaks the word of the promise, but Lazarus is still dead.  There is yet, further delay.

     Then, finally, along with Jesus’ words there is action.  Jesus goes to the tomb and says, “Roll away the stone,” and then to the dead man says, “Lazarus, come on out.”  I am sure that in the next few moments there was more confusion, more uncertainly, and more than a little doubt.  Then, in verse 44 comes the climax of the story when it says, “The dead man came out.”  Back in John 5:28 Jesus had said, “Do not be surprised at this.  The time is coming when all the dead will hear his voice and come out of their graves.”  And Jesus said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

     This first century story is just like the story we have been living with JoAnn this past year in almost every way.  We have seen sickness, we have prayed to Jesus, we have been puzzled by his response, we have faced the death of our loved one, and we are now experiencing the grief that follows.  We, like Mary and Martha in the story, have received a promise, a word from Jesus.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” he said, “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  That promise has been given to all who will hear and believe it.  Now, we lack just one thing.  Jesus raised someone from the dead on that long ago day, and Lazarus was given a few more years of this life.  And we aren’t looking for that here today.

     But we do know that the raising of Lazarus was just a small hint of things to come.  That was just one little resurrection from one little old tomb, but that great ‘gettin up morning’ of everybody on that wonderful day when Jesus returns is yet to come.  Be assured of this, it will happen– maybe tomorrow, maybe in a thousand years.  We have to wait and see.  Even in this Gospel story, Jesus delayed before he acted.  And today, we will have to deal with a longer delay.  But the hope and the promise and the future reality are all the same for us as it was for Lazarus:  the dead who die in Christ will live again.  It is for us now to believe the story, take hold of the promise, make it our own, and then one day know and experience the final and complete healing of the resurrection unto life everlasting.

     Psalm 121:8 says, “The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”  The Lord is always watching over each of us, and is, even now, still watching over JoAnn.  It is just that early last Monday morning, JoAnn quietly passed from the now part of that promise to the forevermore part, and for that we give God our thanks and praise.  It is that ‘forevermore’ part of the promise that gives faith the ability to make adjustments in our plans and in our hopes and in our prayers.  Faith adjusts itself, not to lowered expectations and smaller hopes, but to an ever increasing trust and an ever deepening hope.  We pray for healing and then things get worse.  Then, faith then adjusts its prayers to praying for the strength to endure, to giving thanks for the life lived, and finally to a focus on that eternal home with God, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be no more pain, or grief, or death.  With faith in God we always have a fall back position– until that day when we fall back into the arms of Jesus.

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John 11:21-27  —  “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
     Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
     Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
     Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”
     “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Psalm 122:8  —  The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Revelation 21:3-4  —  I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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A Prayer on Facing Death by Walter Rauschenbusch (1861-1918)  (edited): 

O Thou Eternal One, we who are doomed to die lift up our souls to thee for strength.  We know that at some turn of our pathway Death stands waiting to take us by the hand and lead us.  We praise thee that to us he is no longer an enemy but thy great angel and our friend, who alone can open for us the prison-house of pain and misery and set our feet in the roomy spaces of a larger life.  Yet we are but children, afraid of the dark and the unknown, and we dread the parting from the life that is so sweet and from the loved ones who are so dear.

Grant us of thy mercy a valiant heart, that we may tread the road with head uplifted and a smiling face.  May we do our work to the last with a wholesome joy, and love our loved ones with an added tenderness because the days of love are short.  On thee we cast the heaviest burden that numbs our soul; the gnawing fear for those we love, whom we would leave unsheltered in a selfish world.  But we will trust in thee, for through all our years thou hast been our stay.  O thou Father of the fatherless, put your arm about our little ones!

We thank you that we have tasted the rich life of humanity.  We bless thee for every hour of life, for all our share in the joys and strivings of our brothers and sisters, for the wisdom gained which will be part of us forever.  If soon we must go, still we know that through thee we have lived, and pray that by thy grace we have helped to shape the future and bring in the better day.  If our spirit droops in loneliness, uphold us by thy companionship.  When all the voices of love grow faint and drift away, thy everlasting arms will still be there.  Thou art the Father of our spirits; from thee we have come; to thee we go.  We rejoice that for those who abide in thee, death is but the gateway to life eternal.  Into thy hands we commend our spirit.  Amen.

431) Patience in Suffering

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 41 of that book, The Principles of Christian Patience.

          Rest in the Lord, and bear patiently the cross imposed on you by God.

     Think about the terrible sufferings of Christ.  He suffered for all, even for those who despised Him and trampled him underfoot.  He was delivered up, stricken, and forsaken by His heavenly Father.  He was deserted by the disciples whom he loved, and rejected by his own people, the Jews, who chose to have the robber Barabbas released instead of Him.  He bore the sins of all mankind, so the whole human race is guilty of sending him to His death.  And, he suffered in every conceivable way.  His soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death; He sweat great drops of blood; His head was crowned with thorns; His lips tasted the bitter gall; His hands and feet were pierced with nails; His side was lacerated with the spear; His whole body was scourged and stretched upon the cross.  Jesus suffered hunger, thirst, cold, contempt, poverty, insult, wounds, and the awful death on the cross.

     So consider how unseemly it would be for our Lord Jesus Christ to suffer such great pains, and then for us, his servants, to expect and demand that we live in undisturbed joy!  Oh, how unseemly it would be that our Savior should be severely punished for our sins, and then that we should continue to delight in them!  No, but rather as it was necessary for Christ to suffer and then to enter into his heavenly glory (Luke 24:26), so also we must, through much tribulation, enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).  

     Let us remember that as children of God we are heirs not only of the joy and glory of the future life, but also of the sorrow and the suffering of this present life, for “the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Heb. 12:5-6).  Great, indeed, are the mysterious influences and blessings of our afflictions, since by them God calls us to contrition for our sins, to a true and holy fear of himself, and to the exercise of patience.

     Think of the inconceivable reward held out to you!  “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).  Whatever our sufferings may be here, it is only for a time, but the glory that awaits us is for ever and ever.  God knows perfectly all our adversities, and will one day bring them all to an end; and God will then wipe all the tears from our eyes (Isaiah 25:8 and Revelation 21:4).

     To this eternal glory, O Lord Jesus, lead us on and on, and to its blissful enjoyment finally bring us!  Amen.

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Acts 14:21-22  —  (Paul and Barnabas) preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Psalm 30:5  —  For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

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Grant, almighty God, since the dullness and harshness of our flesh is so great that it is needful for us to be afflicted in various ways, that we may patiently bear your chastisement, and, under a deep feeling of sorrow, flee to your mercy given to us in Christ.  And then, not depending upon the earthly blessings of this perishable life, but relying only upon your Word, we may go forward in the course of our lives; until at length we are gathered to that blessed rest which is laid up for us in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

–John Calvin  (1509-1564)

430) Feeling Sorry for the Wealthy (part two)

        Christ Healing the Blind Man, Eustache Le Sueur, 1652

     (…continued)  Mark 10:46-52 tells the story of Jesus healing a blind man.  The man’s name is Bartimaeus, and in that society being blind also meant being poor, forced to live by begging, as it says in verse 46.  But Bartimaeus knew enough about Jesus to cry out for him when he heard he was passing by.  Verse 47 says that he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

     In that one plea, Bartimaeus is already saying a great deal.  In the previous chapters Jesus has been meeting all kinds of people and getting all kinds of responses.  He is listened to, questioned, challenged, and criticized.  He is followed by some, rejected by others, and no doubt ignored by many.  But here is a blind man who immediately SEES; he sees Jesus for who he is, the Son of David, the King, and sees his need of him, pleading “Have mercy on me.”

     Bartimaeus is not afraid to publicly proclaim his faith.  We might not be as eager to talk about our faith in public.  People might take it wrong, they might be offended, they might think you are being self-righteous.  Religion is a good topic to avoid in polite conversation.  You might be criticized or look down on if you get into it too much, and this man was.  Verse 48 says, “many people rebuked him and told him to be quiet.”  But this man is desperate.  He doesn’t care what the crowd says to him or about him.  The verse goes on to say that he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”     

     Jesus hears Bartimaeus and asks that he be brought forward.  Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus replied simply, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  And then Jesus says, “Go, your faith has healed you,” and immediately, says verse 52, the man received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  

     Of all the many people around Jesus that day, it is the blind man who ‘sees’ most clearly.  In fact, it is because of his blindness that he is more aware of his desperation than many of the others who met Jesus.  Others had seen Jesus do miracles, but they wanted to debate Jesus on where his power came from and by whose authority he did such things and whether or not he should heal on the Sabbath and so on, trying so hard to see everything that they missed what was most important.  Bartimaeus was not interested in any of that.  He was desperate, and all he wanted to do was make his plea to Jesus and cling to him.  His desperation became his strength, and he was praised for his faith.  He, like the believers in Pastor Manuel’s church in yesterday’s meditation, knew he needed God.

     We can be thankful that we are not in desperate economic circumstances like those in Pastor Manuel’s church.  And if we have our eyesight, we can also be thankful.  We do not want to live our lives in desperation, and if have been blessed enough to be able to make ourselves secure and comfortable, that is something to be thankful for.  Tough times come and go for everyone, but we do what we can to build in stability and peace as much as we can.  We want that, but at the same time we have to realize the danger to our soul and spirit that comes along with safety and security and well-being.  One of the devil’s oldest and most effective tricks is to use God’s own blessings to lead us away from God.  The more God blesses us, the more we can be tempted to feel secure enough to not need God; and this can become an even worse blindness than the physical blindness which afflicted Bartimaeus.  Jesus once asked, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”  To put it another way, it would be far better to endure for a few years the grinding poverty of Pastor Manuel’s people and keep your faith alive unto death, than to gain the whole world for a few years and lose your eternal hope.  There is no long term security for anyone except in God.  Desperation reminds us of that in ways that we might forget when times are good.

     Why did church attendance increase all over the country after the 9/11 attack on America?  Because people were reminded that life is short and uncertain, and this world is a dangerous place.  Why did church attendance then decrease again after a few weeks?  Because people soon forgot that.  Church attendance is of course not the only measure of a people’s faith and spirit, but it is an important indicator, and, it is a weekly reminder of our eternal soul and that we need God.

     One more important thing.  It has been the experience of many people that when they most desperately need God, God seems far away.  We can see this even in the Bible; most certainly in the Psalms, and also in the Prophets and in the Epistle’s, and even in Jesus himself.  In becoming a man, Jesus emptied himself of all divine power, says Philippians chapter 2.  So, in times of need he had to pray to God for help and support.  And when did he need such help more than when he was on the cross?  And his heavenly Father did not then seem very close to Jesus, for some of his last words from the cross were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  That is how it can feel for a believer, even when he or she most desperately needs God.  But then one must simply continue to cry out, like Bartimaeus; even when the Savior cannot be seen, even when all looks hopeless, even when, for a time, it seems like there will not be a response.

     Yet in our crying out to God we are closer to God than we are when we are comfortable and our every need is meet and we are not looking to God at all.

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Mark 10:46-52  —  Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

     Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

     So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

     “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

     The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

    “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

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Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

–Psalm 86:1-4

429) Feeling Sorry for the Wealthy (part one)

     Manuel is the pastor of several small, very poor congregations in rural Honduras, the second poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.  Todd is the pastor of a large and wealthy congregation in Baltimore.  In the 1980’s, Todd and Manuel were roommates in college.  A while back, Todd went to Honduras to visit Manuel.  Todd could not believe the poverty, the poor housing, the meager incomes, the poor health care, and the lack of food.  Todd was feeling sorry for Manuel and how he had to live and minister in such desperate circumstances.

     It came as a great surprise then, when they were visiting one evening Manuel said to Todd, “You know Todd, I feel sorry for you.”

     “What?,” said Todd, “you feel sorry for me?  How can that be?  You’ve been to America, you know how well we live there.  I feel sorry for you and your people because you have such a struggle even to live.  But me, and the folks in my congregation, we have more than enough of everything.”

     “Yes,” said Manuel, “I know; and that is why I feel sorry for you as a pastor.  It must be very difficult to be a minister under those circumstances.  Your people can buy whatever they need.  They can even buy most of what they want.  I would imagine that it is very easy for many of them to forget that they need God for anything.  I suppose in your sermons you have to find all kinds of ways to convince them of their need for God (someday at least), and remind them of their need to pay some attention to God.”

     “But here,” Manuel continued, “nobody forgets they need God.  When we pray, ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ we mean it.  We might not know where our next meal is coming from.  We don’t take anything for granted.  And I don’t have to remind my people that someday in the far distant future when they get sick or die they might need God.  Illness and death are always all around us here.  And I don’t have to tell my people why they should take hope in and look forward to the joys of heaven.  That is the hope and promise that is central in their hearts and minds.  They know that they cannot look forward to a bigger income or a newer house or leisurely retirement here.  None of that is in their future here in this life.  But when they sing about their home above with Jesus, they mean it and believe it.  That is their real and true hope.”

     “So I do feel sorry for you and respect you, Todd,” concluded Manuel.  “It must be very difficult to minister among those who can solve so many of their problems on their own, and whose every hope can be met by their checkbook and credit card.  In this short and uncertain life we all desperately need God.  But when people already have so much of everything, it is easy to forget that.”

     Most people in Pastor Manuel’s church are in desperate circumstances and cling to their faith for hope.  Most people in Pastor Todd’s church are not, and for many of them, faith can be put on the back burner until needed (or forgotten).  Actually, as Manuel said, in this short and uncertain life we are all, always in desperate need of something or someone greater than ourselves.  But, when things are going well we can become blinded to that fact and ignore God, and, in time, even let go of faith completely.  (continued…)

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Matthew 6:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Psalm 20:7  —  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Psalm 25:1  —  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

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Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

–Proverbs 30:7-9

428) But…

     Though BUT is a simple and common word, it is one of the most wonderful words in the Bible.  As you remember from your grammar lessons in school the word ‘but’ serves as a conjunction in sentences.  Conjunctions are words that join together other words or phrases.  The two most common conjunctions in the English language are the words ‘and’ and ‘but.’  The word AND  combines similar words or thoughts, like “Jim and Jack and Tom are all going to the ball game.”  The word BUT, on the other hand, introduces something new, or different, or contrary, into the sentence; such as, “Jim and Jack are going to the game, BUT, Tom has to stay home because he is sick.”  The word BUT signals that the sentence is about to go off into another direction.

     Way back in the beginning pages of the Bible, in Genesis 15:1, God repeats to Abram a wonderful blessing he had given before.  “But,” says Abram, introducing a problem, “what good are all these blessings when I don’t even have an heir?  Where are all these children you have been promising me?”

     “But,” the Lord replies, introducing something different, “you will have an heir,” adding that Abram should look at the stars in the sky, because that is how numerous his descendants will be.  That was not only a different thought, but it was also unexpected since Abram and his wife were already middle-aged, and would be well into their old age before the child would be born.

     In those few verses from the earliest chapters of the Bible we see a pattern that will repeated throughout the pages of God’s Word.  First, there is a problem.  The person in the text is in some kind of trouble or distress, BUT then, there is always a way out provided by God.  Faith always has an answer.  God never fails.  So we see these ‘buts’ all over the place in the Bible, as God is always introducing something new and different and unexpected into every situation in order to bring the people through whatever situation they are in. 

     This is a message we all need to hear, because every person on earth is in at least one of three predicaments.  There are those who are in the midst of trouble, and there are those who are just coming out of trouble, and, there are those who are on their way into trouble.  Everyone falls into one of those categories, and maybe even all three at once.  We’ve all been through troubles, some of you are in the midst of sorrow or trouble right now, and everyone has more trouble ahead of them.

     BUT the Bible has something to say to us about our troubles.  Listen to what God’s Word says in I Peter 4:12:   “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you; BUT rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”  The trouble will not last, says Peter, BUT there is a solution.  There is another, better day coming, and if not in this life, then in that day when you will be with Jesus in his home, and then you will rejoice, says Peter.  In I Corinthians 6:9 Paul writes, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, not the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor thieves nor the greedy nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God–which is just what some of you were,” he says.  “BUT” Paul goes on, “You were washed, you were forgiven, you were justified in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.”  We have all not only been in trouble, we have also caused trouble for ourselves and for others, or, as the Bible puts it, ‘we have all sinned and have fallen short’ of God’s expectations of us (Romans 3:23).  BUT, the Bible also says, Jesus has died for us and forgives us and has saved us from ourselves.  So in Romans 6:23 we read, “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  

     Psalm 103 talks about how fast this life gets away on us.  We are like the flowers of the field, he says, here one day, and gone the next, BUT, it says, “from everlasting to everlasting the love of the Lord is with those who fear him.”

     One could go on and on with Bible verses because the Bible is filled with these kinds of ‘buts.’  This message is also in many of our best hymns.  Think of that most favorite of all hymns, Amazing Grace, which begins with these words:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, BUT now am found, was blind, BUT now I see.

     Think that other old favorite, How Great Thou Art.  The hymn starts out singing about the awesome wonders of God– the stars, the mighty thunder, the forest glades, and the lofty mountain grandeur; and then the first word of verse three is BUT:  “But when I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in; that on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died, to take away my sin…” God is so great and so awesome, BUT still he cares about little me and my troubles, and He has even sent his Son to die for me.

     Everybody has a story to tell of trouble in their life, and everyone who keeps looking to God also has a story to tell of how God has been with them in that trouble and brought them through, or, will bring them through.  These stories will frequently contain the word BUT:

“I was down in the pit of despair, BUT God brought me up…”
“I was sick and almost died, BUT God made me well…”
“I didn’t know what I would do, BUT God provided a way out for me…”
“I didn’t think I could go on, BUT God was with me and strengthened me…”

     Even when our stories end in the very worst way, as they all indeed will with death, even then, with God, we can say BUT, because we believe in the resurrection from the dead.  Faith prays, faith trusts, faith hopes, and then, no matter what happens, faith is always able to adjust to the new reality.  No matter how bad it gets, God always has another move to make.  As it says in Romans 14:8, “whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”  This kind of faith is shown by Martha in John chapter 11.  She had been praying that Jesus would come and make her brother well, but Jesus did not arrive in time and Lazarus died.  Even then she did not give up on faith, saying to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, BUT but even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”  And Jesus went to the tomb and raised Lazarus from the dead.  Not even death can keep us from God, or keep God from fulfilling his promises to us.  

     Keep the faith– and keep looking for, praying for, and waiting for the ‘buts’ in your story.

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Genesis 50:19-20  —  But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Hebrews 11:13-16  —  These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

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“Lead us not into temptation, BUT deliver us from evil.”

–Jesus, Matthew 6:13

427) FDR’s D-Day Prayer

     Seventy years ago this month, on the morning of June 6, 1944, Allied forces led by the Americans, invaded Northern France in the biggest military operation in history.  The goal was to get a foothold on the continent, push back the German forces, and defeat the Nazi Germany war machine that was threatening Western civilization.  Later on in the day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) addressed the nation with a six and a half minute radio address, most of which was a prayer composed by himself.  Presidential historian Jon Meachum calls it one of the “largest mass prayers in history.”  One hundred million Americans were tuned in (70% of the population at that time).  Today’s meditation contains the text of that radio message.  It is a great prayer.  Hear the original radio message at:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAUDj6yQx9U&feature=kp

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FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, JUNE 6, 1944:

     My fellow Americans:  Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation.  It has come to pass with success thus far.  And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God:  Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings.  Their road will be long and hard.  For the enemy is strong.  He may hurl back our forces.  Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won.  The darkness will be rent by noise and flame.  Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace.  They fight not for the lust of conquest.  They fight to end conquest.  They fight to liberate.  They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people.  They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return.  Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home — fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them — help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer.  But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer.  As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too — strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us faith.  Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade.  Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled.  Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment — let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy.  Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances.  Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men.  And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.  Amen.

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Psalm 144:1,2a  —  Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle.  He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer…

 Ecclesiastes 3:1… 8b  —  There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:…   a time for war and a time for peace.

Psalm 27:1  —  The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?

426) Your Children’s Children

By Frederick Buechner in Beyond Words:  Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith, (HarperOne, 2004).

     To have grandchildren is not only to be given something, but to be given something back.  You are given back something of your children’s childhood all those years ago.  You are given back something of what it was like to be a young parent.  You are given back something of your own childhood even, as on creaking knees you get down on the floor to play tiddlywinks, or sing about Old MacDonald and his farm, or watch Saturday morning cartoons till you’re cross-eyed.  It is not only your own genes that are part of your grandchildren, but the genes of all sorts of people they never knew, but who, through them, will play some part in times and places they never dreamed of.  And of course along with your genes, they will also carry their memories of you into those times and places too– the afternoon you lay in the hammock with them watching the breezes blow, the face you made when one of them stuck out a tongue dyed Popsicle blue at you, the time you got a sliver out for one of them with the tweezers of your Swiss army knife.  On some distant day they will hold grandchildren of their own with the same hands you once held them by.  In the meantime, they are the freshest and fairest you have.  After you’re gone, it is mainly because of them that the earth will not be as if you never walked on it.

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Psalm 128:6  —  May you live to see your children’s children.  Peace be on Israel.

Proverbs 17:6  —  Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.

Psalm 78:4-7  —  …We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lordhis power, and the wonders he has done.  He… established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Psalm 103:17-18  —  From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children— with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

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Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.  Amen.  

–Psalm 71:17-18

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