425) Wisdom from G. K. Chesterton

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was an English journalist and author.  He wrote over 100 books and over 4000 newspaper columns and articles.  He was an adult convert to Christianity, a member of the Roman Catholic Church, and an ardent defender of the faith.  For more about Chesterton go to http://www.chesterton.org

gk chesterton, quotes, sayings, right, wrong, wisdom

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To have a right to do something is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.

 Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking about. 

If God is abolished from the land, the government will become the god. (paraphrased)

When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy.  You get the small laws.

Self-denial is the test and definition of self-government.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

We are learning to do a great many clever things…   The next great task will be to learn not to do them.

The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feel about sex are these:  first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.

The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.

There are some desires that are not desirable.

In the struggle for existence, it is only on those who hang on for ten minutes after all is hopeless, that hope begins to dawn.

If there were no God, there would be no atheists.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.

The test of all happiness is gratitude.

Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

It has been often said, very truly, that religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary.

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.

The truth is, of course, that the brevity of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity.  It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.

These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.

Civilization has run on ahead of the soul of man, and is producing faster than he can think and give thanks.

Great truths can only be forgotten and can never be falsified.

Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules;  it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.

What we call freedom is often simply the free choice of the soul between one set of limitations and another.

Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
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Psalm 119:33-34  —  Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.   Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. 

Proverbs 23:12  —  Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge.

Philippians 3:12b-14  —  …I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.   Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.   But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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Almighty God, we pray that you give us clean hands, clean words, and clean thoughts.  Help us to stand for the difficult right against the easy wrong.  Save us from habits that harm.  Teach us to work as hard and play as fair in your sight alone as if the whole world were looking on.  Forgive us when we are unkind, and help us forgive those who are unkind to us.  Keep us ready to help others even though it be at some cost to ourselves, and send us chances to do good every day, so that in so doing we may grow more like your dear Son.  In his name we pray.  Amen.
–United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917

424) “I Know Just How You Feel”

     Retired pastor and author John Claypool tells the story of a discussion he had one time with his children’s babysitter, an elderly lady who lived a few blocks away.  One evening when they returned, she met them at the door and was obviously very excited about something.  She had in her hand a book she had found on the Claypools’ coffee table– When God Became Man.  She had apparently not read very much in it, because she had one question after another for the pastor.  “Did that really happen?,” she asked.  “Did God really become a man?  When was that?  What was he like?  What did he say?”

     John Claypool was astounded by the lady’s astonishment at what he thought everyone knew.  He knew this lady was an active member at another congregation in town, and he could not imagine that this should come as such a shock to her now, after all those years of going to church.  “Certainly you’ve heard of Jesus,” he said to her.  “Why, yes, of course,” she replied.  “Well,” he said as gently as he was able, “The Bible says that Jesus was God Himself, visiting the earth he had created.  God had decided,” Claypool said, “that he would come to earth in the form of a person, and what’s more, he’d come as a little baby.  So, he was born into the world, just like everyone else, and that is what Christmas is all about.  Isn’t that amazing?,” Claypool asked.  “Yes, it is,” agreed his astounded listener.  “And not only that,” he said, going on, “But God then allowed himself to die a death just like every other human being– and that, is what Good Friday is all about.”  “You mean,” she said, “that was God on the cross?”  “Yes,” he said, “That was God.”

     Claypool did not say what church that lady attended, and the story seems too odd to be true.  But it was great fun, he said, to tell someone about how God was in Christ, someone to whom it was all brand new.  It reminds me of a visit I had one time with a man in a care center who could still visit a bit, but whose memory was quite gone because of Alzheimer‘s disease.  I read to him some of the best known Bible verses, hoping something might be familiar.  He leaned forward more and more, and he listened and he listened, and finally he said, “You know, that’s a pretty good book you have there.”  It was all like the very first time he had heard any of it, and it sounded good to him.

     John Claypool’s babysitter did not have Alzheimer’s disease, and she knew a lot of stories about Jesus, but she never really put it all together.  She had always just thought of Jesus as nothing more than the human founder of a new religion.  She was thrilled to hear that God himself had actually lived a life like us, and was amazed to hear that he even allowed himself to be killed.

     Even though we have heard it all before, it is worth reminding ourselves again why it is so important that God did become a human, and go through everything, in life and in death, just like each of us.  And there are two basic reasons.  First, in the person of Jesus Christ WE learn about God in a very personal way.  “If you have seen me,” said Jesus, “you have seen the Father.”  Over the centuries, philosophers have wondered and written about who God is and what God must be like.  The Old Testament prophets had direct experiences with God and tried to communicate to their listeners what God was like and what he demanded of us and what he offered us.  But as Christians we look first and foremost at Jesus to know what God is like.  There, in person, we see most clearly, who God is and what God has to say to us.

     Secondly, as the result of God becoming a person, GOD learned what it is like to live the life that we live.  The Bible speaks of this in Hebrews chapter four where it says, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess, for we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and grace to help us in our time of need.”  Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted and weak and be in need of help.

     Sometimes it is hard to know just what to say in a given situation.  I have heard some people say that they do not like going to visitations or funerals because they don’t know what to say there.  Many times you don’t have to say anything at all, because just being there already says a great deal.  Actually, it might be better to say nothing at all than to say the wrong thing.  One thing I usually do not say is, “I know just how you feel.”  Usually, I don’t know just how they feel How can I know what it is like to lose your spouse after 55 years of marriage?  How could I possibly know what it’s like to have to go into a care center after an entire lifetime of being independent?  And I don’t know what it is like to lose a child, or face life-threatening surgery, or be laid up in the hospital for a month.  I’ve never been through any of that, so I don’t know how it feels.  There are things I can say, but I can’t truthfully say “I know just how you feel” in those situations.

     But when a widow who just lost her husband a few months ago comes over to the home of a friend who just lost her husband that very day and says, “I know just how you feel,” that is all she needs to say.  The other widow then knows that they do indeed share a common sorrow and do understand each other and can bear one another’s burden in a special and unique way.

     In the same way, says the Bible, when we pray to Jesus, we can know that HE KNOWS just how we feel, for he too lived a life like we are living.  He, too, faced the difficulties of growing up; he too faced the death of friends and family; he too faced betrayal and desertion by friends; he too faced temptation and disappointment and failure.  Jesus also faced excruciating pain and death; he even faced despair and times when he felt completely alone, abandoned even by God in heaven, as when he prayed from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  When we are in pain or sorrow or grief, it helps to have a friend there who can truly say to us, “I know just how you feel,” and mean it.  In Jesus, we always have such a friend, because he lived a life like us, and, faced the death that we must all face.

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Hebrews 4:15-16  —  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are— yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

II Corinthians 5:19  —  …God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…

Philippians 2:5-7  —  …Have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

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O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it so that you may enter in.  It is in ruins, O Lord, repair it.  I know and I confess that it is displeasing in your sight.  But who shall cleanse it, or to whom shall I cry but unto you?  Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare your servant from strange sins.  Amen.  –St. Augustine

423) Defending the Early Christians Before the Emperor

By Aristides in APOLOGY, 137 A. D.; from The Early Christians: In Their Own Words (ch. 3, #24); Selected and Edited by Eberhard Arnold (1883-1935).  Reprinted from http://www.bruderhof.com.

     It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth.  We have realized it from their writings; they are closer to the truth and to a right understanding than all the other peoples…  They believe in God, the creator and builder of the universe, in whom all things are and from whom everything comes.  They worship no other God.  They have his commandments imprinted on their hearts.  They observe them because they live in the hope and expectation of the coming age.  They do not commit adultery.  They do not live in fornication.  They speak no untruth…  They do not covet what belongs to others.  They honor father and mother.  They show love to their neighbors.  They pronounce judgments which are just.  They do not worship idols in human form.  They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves…  They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends.  It has become their passion to do good to their enemies…  Their daughters are chaste, kind, and gentle.  Their men refrain from all unlawful intimate relationships.  They keep free from all impurity, for they live in the expectation of the recompense to come in the other world.  Any male or female slaves or dependents whom individuals among them may have, they persuade to become Christians because of the love they feel towards them.  If they do become Christians, they are brothers to them without discrimination.

     They live in the awareness of their smallness.  Kindliness is their nature.  There is no falsehood among them.  They love one another.  They do not neglect widows.  They rescue orphans from those who are cruel to them.  Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing…  They rejoice over him as over a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers after the flesh, but they know they are brothers in the Spirit and in God.  If they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed by their opponents for the sake of their Christ’s name, all of them take care of all his needs.  If possible they set him free.  If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him.  In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs.

     They are ready to give up their lives for Christ, for they observe the words of their Christ with much care…  Every morning they give praise and honor to their God for all the good things he gives to them.  They thank him for their food and drink.  If any one of them who is righteous passes from this world, they rejoice and give thanks to God.  They escort his body as though he were simply moving from one place to another.  When a baby is born to one of them, they honor God, and if it should happen that the little child dies, they honor God even more, for it has passed through the world without sin.  But if they have to experience that one of them dies in godlessness or sin, they weep bitterly over him.  They sigh for him because he must go to meet his punishment.

     Thus they run the course of their lives.  They acknowledge the good deeds of God towards them.  And because of them, good flows on in the world!  Truly it is they who have sought and have found the truth.  Yet they do not cry out in the ears of the masses the good deeds they do.  Rather, they take care that no one should notice them.  They hide their giving like someone who conceals a treasure he has found.  They strive for righteousness because they live in the expectation of seeing Christ and receiving from him the fulfillment of the promises he made to them.

     Take their writings and read in them, and you will see that I have not invented anything here.  Rather, through reading their writings I came to these firm convictions, also regarding the future things to which they bear witness.  It is for this reason that I felt urged to declare the truth to those who are ready for the truth and ready to seek the world of the future.

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Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

I Peter 2:12  —  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

IPeter 3:15-16  —  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

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Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things:  Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

422) Happy to Go Home

From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III;  a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 7, 1959

     I am sorry to hear that so many troubles crowd upon you but glad to hear that, by God’s grace, you are so untroubled.  So often, whether for good or ill, one’s inner state seems to have so little connection with the circumstances.  I can now hardly bear to look back on the summer before last when Joy was apparently dying and I was often screaming with the pain of osteoporosis: yet at the time we were in reality far from unhappy.  May the peace of God continue to enfold you…

     What a state we have got into when we can’t say  “I’ll be happy when God calls me home” without being afraid one will be thought ‘morbid’.  After all, St. Paul said just the same in Philippians 1:21.  If we really believe what we say we believe—if we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home’, why should we not look forward to the arrival?  There are, aren’t there, only three things we can do about death:  to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it.  The third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls ‘healthy,’ is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.  

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     “I received good news from my hospice nurse today,” said the elderly lady I was visiting.  Helen was had been battling cancer for a year, but was now about to lose that battle. 

     “What did she tell you,” I asked, wondering if perhaps there had been a change in her diagnosis.

     Helen replied, “She said I have, at the most, only a week to live.”  

     Helen died six days later, ready for God’s call, and happy to go home.

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     William Augustus Muhlenberg (1796-1877) was the great-grandson of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the “patriarch of the Lutheran church in America.”  William, like his famous great-grandfather, was also a pastor.  Near the end of his life he was hospitalized, and was visited by the hospital chaplain who began praying for his recovery.  Old Pastor Muhlenberg interrupted the prayer.  “Let us have an understanding about this,” said the dying man.  “You are asking God to restore me and I am asking God to take me home.  There must not be a contradiction in our prayers, for it is evident that God cannot answer them both.”   —The Story of Christian Hymnody, by E. E. Ryden, 1959, page 485.

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     I am reminded of a little cartoon I saw one time in a magazine.  The cartoon shows two men, in the clouds of heaven, with their angel wings attached.  They are sitting in lounge chairs, obviously taking it easy and enjoying themselves immensely.  And one says to the other, “Just think, Ralph, if it wasn’t for all that darn health food, we could have been up here years ago.”

     We fear the change that will come when we die, but we must keep in mind Romans 8:18 where Paul, who suffered a great deal for the Gospel, says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”  It will be an incredible and wonderful change.

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Philippians 1:21-24  —  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Hebrews 11:13-16  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised;they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Psalm 23:6  —  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Revelation 22:20  —  He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”  Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

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O my most blessed and glorious Creator, who has fed me all my life, and redeemed me from all evil; seeing it is your merciful pleasure to take me out of this frail body, and to wipe away all tears from my eyes, and all sorrows from my heart, I do with all humility and willingness consent and submit myself to your sacred will.  Into your saving and everlasting arms I commend my spirit.  I am ready, my dear Lord, and earnestly expect and long for your good pleasure.  Come quickly, and receive the soul of your servant who trusts in you.  Amen.  

–Dying prayer of Henry Vaughan

421) The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a colonial preacher and theologian– perhaps the greatest of all American theologians.  As a young man (in 1722-23), he wrote 70 resolutions by which he hoped to live his life, resolving to read them every week.  Here are a few.

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Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake:

1.  Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be most to God’ s glory;… and whatever I think to be my duty, and for the most good and advantage of mankind in general; and to do this whatever the difficulties.

6.  Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live.

7.  Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

9.  Resolved, to think of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

13.  Resolved, to endeavor to find out fit objects of charity.

14.  Resolved, never to do any thing out of revenge.

15.  Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.

16.  Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone so that it shall tend to his dishonor, unless it would do some real good.

21.  Resolved, never to do any thing, which if I should see in another, I should count a just occasion to despise him for, or to think in any way the worse of him.

28.  Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, that I may plainly perceive myself to grow in that knowledge.

31.  Resolved, never to say any thing at all against anybody, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor and love; agreeable to the lowest humility, and to a sense of my own faults and failings; and agreeable to the golden rule.

33.  Resolved, to do always what I can towards making and preserving peace, when it can be done without causing harm in other respects.

34.  Resolved, never to speak any thing but the pure and simple truth.

46.  Resolved, never to allow the least measure of any fretting uneasiness at my father or mother.

47.  Resolved, to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a temper that is good and sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented and easy, compassionate and generous, humble and meek, submissive and obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable and even, patient, moderate, forgiving and sincere.

50.  Resolved, I will act in such a way as I think I shall judge would have been best, and most prudent, when I come into the future world.

52.  I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again.  Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

57.  Resolved, when I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done my duty, and resolve to do it; and then, let the event be just as God orders it.  I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my duty and my sin.

58.  Resolved, to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversation, but rather to exhibit an air of love and cheerfulness.

59.  Resolved, when I am most conscious of provocations to ill nature and anger, that I will strive most to feel and act good-naturedly.

65.  Resolved, very much to exercise myself in this, all my life long; to declare my ways to God; and to lay open my soul to him– all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires, and every thing, and every circumstance.

66.  Resolved, that I will endeavor always to keep a gentle demeanor in my actions and my speaking in all places, and in all companies, except it should so happen that duty requires otherwise.

67.  Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire how I am the better for them, and what I might have learned by them.

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Philippians 4:8-9  —  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.

Galatians 5:22-23  —  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

Psalm 51:1-2  —  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

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Almighty God, since our minds have so many hidden recesses that nothing is more difficult than thoroughly to purge them from all pretense and lying, grant that we may honestly examine ourselves.  Shine upon us the light of your Holy Spirit.  May we truly acknowledge our hidden faults and put them far away from us, so that you may be our only God.  May we conduct ourselves in the world with a pure conscience.  And at last, may we be made partakers of that true glory which you have prepared for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–John Calvin (1509-1564)

420) Thoughts on Several Subjects by Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

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To be of no church is dangerous.  Religion, of which the rewards are distant and which is animated only by Faith and Hope, will glide by degrees out of the mind, unless it be invigorated and reimpressed by external ordinances, by stated calls to worship, and the salutary influence of example.  —Lives: Milton

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Every funeral may justly be considered as a summons to prepare for that state, into which it shows that we must some time enter; and that summons is more loud and piercing, as the event of which it warns us is at less distance.  To neglect at any time preparation for death, is to sleep on our post at a siege; but to omit it in old age, is to sleep at an attack.  —Rambler #78

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The business of life is to work out our salvation; and the days are few in which provisions must be made for eternity.  –Sermon XV

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It is by chiefly by affliction that the heart of man is purified and that the thoughts are fixed upon a better state.  —Adventurer

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So large a part of human life passes in a state contrary to our natural desires that one of the principal topics of moral instruction is the art of bearing calamities.  And such is the certainty of evil that it is the duty of every man to furnish his mind with those principles that may enable him to act under it with decency and propriety.  —Rambler #32

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The greatest part of mankind have no other reason for their opinions than that they are in fashion.  –Attributed

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It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than not to trust.  —Rambler #79

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Prosperity and happiness are very different, though they are always confused by those who undertake to judge the state of others.  –Sermon XVI

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In matters of morals, men more frequently need to be reminded, than instructed.  –Attributed

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He that considers how soon he must close his life, will find nothing of so much importance as to close it well. —Rambler #17

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Psalm 115:1  —  Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

1 Corinthians 1:26-29  —  Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

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A PRAYER BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION:
Lord Jesus, I have fallen, but I would rather be strong.  For this purpose you have instituted this sacrament, that with it you may rekindle and strengthen my faith, and thus I may be helped.  Therefore, I am here to receive it.  My sins and faults are all known to you.  But you have said in your Word:  “Come unto me all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give your rest.”  I now come to be helped.  Amen.  –Martin Luther

419) ‘Consolation on the Death of Friends’ by Johann Gerhard

Johann Gerhard (1582-1637) was 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 44 of that book.

     Keep Christ, your blessed Savior, always in mind, and you will have no dread of death.  If you are distressed at the thought of the agonies of death, be comforted in view of the mighty power of Christ thy Lord.  Our life here is full of burdens; it is a blessed thing then to find any comfort and alleviation of its miseries.  After all, it is not the Christian himself, but only his trouble that dies.  Christ has said, “If a man keep my word, he shall never see death” (John 8:51).  This departure of the soul, which we think of as death, is not an exit, but a transition.  We do not lose our departed loved ones, we simply send them on before us.  They do not die, they rise into a higher life.  They do not forsake us, they are not forever parted from us, they have just preceded us to the glory-world.  They are not lost to us, rather only separated from us for a time.  When the good man dies it is to live a new life; and while we in tears lay away his body, he rejoices in the unspeakable gains of the world of glory.  Our friends die; but in truth that means that they cease to sin, and all their disquietudes, their struggles, their miseries also cease.  From what is only the shadow of a life here, they pass over into the true life beyond.

     Life is a voyage over a troubled sea; death is the port of safety to which we are bound.  We ought not grieve then that our dear ones have died, but we ought to rejoice that from the stormy sea of life they have safely passed into the haven of eternal rest.  This life is a long and weary imprisonment, and death is glorious liberty; for this reason old Simeon on the verge of death exclaimed, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:39).   Shall we grieve, then, that our friends have struggled out of these bodily fetters, and are even now rejoicing in true liberty?  Shall we torment ourselves with tears and groans, when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17)?  Shall we grieve for our loved ones, thus adding fresh burdens to our lives, when they are in that place of blessedness where there is neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain (Revelation 21:4), and where they rest from their labors (Revelation 14:13)?  Shall their departure from us plunge us into excessive sadness, when they are exulting in true and lasting joy?

     When the disciples’ hearts were filled with sadness because Jesus had told them that He was about to go away from them, Jesus said, “If you loved Me, you would rejoice, because I said, I am going to the Father” (John 14.28).

     Suppose you were in a raging storm at sea, and the waves were dashing over your ship, every moment threatening to engulf it, would you not seek the nearest harbor with all possible haste?  Behold, the world is tottering and laboring to its fall; so will you not give thanks to God, will you not congratulate your departed loved ones, that they, now safe with God, have escaped the awful ruin and terrible shipwreck that threatens this world with destruction?  In whose hands can the salvation of thy departed be safer than in the hands of Christ?

     If those whom you have lost by death were very dear to you, let God now be all the dearer to you, because He was pleased to take them to Himself in glory.  Do not be angry with the Lord, for He hath taken away nothing but what He gave; He has simply taken back His own, and not what is yours (Job 1.21), only what had been loaned to you for a time.  The Lord alone sees the evils that are to come, and He lovingly took away your dear ones from the calamities that He saw impending.

     Those that die in the Lord rest from their labors, while those whom they left behind in this world suffer grievous afflictions and torments, even those in circumstances of material comfort.  If you have lost dear ones by death, know that by and by you will be with them again, and then they will be dearer to you than ever.  For a brief time they are separated from you; but then through a blissful and unending eternity you will be reunited with them.  For we cherish the sure and blessed hope that we also shall soon depart hence, and that we too shall come to that life.  There, we shall love our loved ones better than we ever loved them here, and then, without the least fear of anything to mar our perfect love.  Dwell not, then, so much upon that sad hour when your friends left you, as upon that glad time when they shall be restored to you on the morning of the resurrection.  When our faith in the resurrection is strong and firm, death loses much of its terror.

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

Psalm 116:15  —  Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

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 by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) after the death of his mother:  Almighty God, merciful Father, in whose hands are life and death, sanctify unto me the sorrow which I now feel.  Forgive me whatever I have done unkindly to my mother, and whatever I omitted to do kindly.  Make me to remember her precepts and good example, and to reform my life according to thy Holy Word, that I may lose no more opportunities for good.  I am sorrowful, Lord, let not my sorrow be without fruit.  Let it be followed by Holy resolutions, and lasting amendment, that when I shall die like my mother, I may be received to everlasting life.  I commend, O Lord, into thy hands, the soul of my departed mother, beseeching thee to grant her whatever is most beneficial to her in her present state.  And, O Lord, grant unto me that am now about to return to the common comforts and business of the world, such moderation in all enjoyments, such diligence in honest labor, and such purity of mind, that amidst the changes, miseries and pleasures of life, I may keep my mind fixed on Thee, and improve every day in grace till I shall be received into thy kingdom of eternal happiness.  Amen.

418) “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go” by George Matheson

     

     George Matheson was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on March 27, 1842.  He had only partial vision as a boy.  After he entered Glasgow University, his sight failed rapidly and he became totally blind at the age of eighteen.  Despite this handicap he was a brilliant scholar and finished the University and the Seminary of the Church of Scotland with high honors.  In 1886 he became pastor of the 2,000 member St. Bernard’s Parish Church in Edinburgh.  He went on to become known as one of Scotland’s outstanding preachers and pastors, greatly esteemed in Edinburgh, where his eloquent preaching consistently attracted large crowds.  Matheson never married, but throughout his fruitful ministry he was aided by a devoted sister, who herself learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew in order to aid him in his theological studies.  She was his faithful co-worker and helper throughout his life, assisting in his calling and other pastoral duties.  Matheson died in 1906.

     Many conjectures have been made regarding the cause of the mental distress which prompted the author to write this text.  A very popular account, although never substantiated, is that this text was an outgrowth of Matheson’s fiancee’s leaving him just before their marriage when she learned of his impending total blindness.  Although this story cannot be documented, there are many significant hints in this hymn reflecting a saddened heart, such as the “flickering torch” and the “borrowed ray” in the second stanza; the tracing of the “rainbow through the rain” in the third stanza; and the “cross” in the last verse.  Fortunately, Dr. Matheson left an account of his writing of this hymn: 

My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882.  I was at that time alone.  It was the day of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow.  Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering.  The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.  It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life.  I had the impression rather of having it dictated to me by some inward voice than of working it out myself.  I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure it never received at my hands any retouching or correction.  I have no natural gift of rhythm.  All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.  I have never been able to gain once more the same fervor in verse.  –Source: 101 Hymn Stories, by Kenneth W. Osbeck, 1982, Kregel Publication, pages 189-190

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Psalm 44:25-6  —  We are brought down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.  Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.

Jeremiah 31:3  —  The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

Psalm 52:8b  —  …I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.

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O LOVE THAT WILT NOT LET ME GO

Hear on youtube at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-tXgsBq418

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust, life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be. Amen.

417) The Last Lecture (part two of two)

     

     (…continued)  The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers, one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible.  You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by.  And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever.  The message of the old beer commercial is, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”

     The beer commercial says life is a party, experience all you can and have all the fun you can, until you pass on, because this life is all there is.  The Bible says life is a test, believe in God, do what is right, and keep the faith.  The beer commercial says do whatever you want, no one is watching.  The Bible says, someone is watching, and there will be an accounting and a judgment at the end.  The beer commercial makes you desperate, because there is never enough time to have it all and experience it all, and this, as we learn in another famous beer commercial, “is as good as it gets.”  The Bible promises a bigger life in a better place, and encourages us to be patient in suffering here, for the best is yet to come.  The beer commercial always disappoints, for the party is never as good as it promises to be, and all good things must come to an end.  The Bible doesn’t promise a party, but guarantees trouble and adversity.  This life, says the Bible, is not a playground, but a ‘vale of tears.’  Yes, there will be some wonderful times in this life, but we are on the way to something else, to that perfect life to come.  That’s for you, says the Bible, if you will believe in Jesus, the one who came to provide it for you.  That is where faith comes in, that is how we are tested.  We are called on to believe in and to trust in the promises of this Lord.  In the beer commercial philosophy, you are on your own.  The Bible tells you that you have a heavenly Father who created you, sustains you, and wants you to join him in his heavenly home forever.

     Here is the interesting thing about all this:  God gives us the freedom to pick how we will approach life, and allows us to live by our choice.  We can choose to live by the beer commercial philosophy or by the Bible.  If you decide to only go around once in life, with no other obligations or beliefs, God will allow you this life; but then when it is over, God will not force you to live with him in heaven.  However, if you look to him and believe in him, he promises you that when this life is over, you will not perish, but have everlasting life.

     The two different approaches to life have been compared to different types of ocean cruises.  As one ship embarks, the captain says to the passengers, “Welcome aboard, our ship is the finest in the business, we have all the best accommodations for you, plenty of good food, round the clock entertainment, and the forecast is for beautiful weather.  As you know, we have no destination, and somewhere, someday soon, we don’t know when, this ship will sink and we will all perish.  But until then folks, enjoy your cruise.  As I said, our accommodations and services are the very best.”

     On the other ship, the captain says this:  “Welcome aboard folks.  I am sorry to tell you we have some bad weather ahead of us.  Activities will be restricted, and you will face some inconveniences.  Please be patient, we are on our way to New York which I know is home to many of you, and you are all looking forward to getting there.  Even though the weather will be unpleasant, I assure we will get to our destination.  In the meantime, we will all have to endure our troubles the best we can.”

     The Biblical view of life is like the second cruise.  The Bible has a very different message from the one that says, ‘You only go around once in life.’  The Bible tells us that this life is not all there is, but is only the first part of a journey on to somewhere else.  God’s Word teaches us to keep our eyes on that destination, and on the One who has promised to bring us there.  God has not promised an easy passage, but God has promised a safe arrival in a good place, and a good refuge.

     Psalm 46 begins with these words: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.”  We need not fear, we are assured, God will be our refuge, no matter what, now and forever.  If I were ever asked to give a last lecture, that is what I would want to say most of all.  I would want to talk about this last and lasting refuge.

     One more thing: did you know that Jesus himself gave a last lecture?  He did.  It was at the Last Supper, just before his arrest.  His words are recorded in the Gospel of John, chapters 13-17, and in that ‘last lecture’ he offered you a wonderful promise.  Jesus said in John 14: 1-3:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  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, so that you also may be where I am.”

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Joshua 24:14-15  —  Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness…  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–John H. Newman, based on a 16th century prayer

416) The Last Lecture (part one of two)

     

     On July 25, 2008 Randy Pausch died at the age of 47.  He was a Computer Science professor at Columbia University and had been in the news several times in the year before his death.  What has made him famous was a lecture he gave at his university, a lecture that has now been viewed millions.  Columbia University has what they call a ‘Last Lecture’ series, an ongoing series of lectures in which professors appear in a large auditorium before whatever students and faculty want to attend, and they say what they would say if that was to be their last lecture.  They are free to talk about whatever they believe is most important, or whatever might best summarize their life’s work, or, whatever else they want to say.  The lecture is usually a hypothetical situation– what they would say if this was their last lecture.

     It was about the time Randy Pausch’s turn came up a year ago that he received the diagnosis that the cancer he had been battling was terminal, and would have only six to nine months left to live.  He decided that he would go ahead with the lecture, and for him, this would indeed be his last lecture.  He would soon have to quit teaching; first of all, in order to focus on the medical treatments that might extend his life for at best a few months, and then also to spend as much time as possible in his remaining days with his young family.  He had married late in life, and he and his wife had three pre-school children.  He gave this last lecture in the Fall of 2007, and although he lived a few months past the time limit doctors initially gave him, he died the following summer.

     What made his lecture so popular was his positive, upbeat attitude, even in the face of such tragedy and hopelessness.  He was open about his condition and his prospects, he faced his reality logically and calmly, he held on to no false hopes, and he imparted a lot of good wisdom about life in a energetic, powerful way.

     I read his book in which he expands on what he said in the lecture, and there is much there that I agree with and admire.  He was raised by strict, old-school parents, who were also creative, encouraging of his brilliant and inquisitive intellect, and supportive of his energetic and independent spirit.  He learned, and then expected his students to learn hard work, self-reliance, and the ability to take criticism and accept responsibility.

     Whining was not allowed in his home when he was growing up.  He was complaining one time to his mother about some extremely difficult classes and tests he was going through in college.  In the book he called that time the second worst time in his life, second only to chemotherapy.  His mother’s terse reply was, “Well yes, we know how you feel son, but just remember, when your father was your age, he was in combat, and the Germans were trying to kill him.”  So Randy learned to just work hard and not feel sorry for himself.  Later in his life, when people wondered how he got to be a tenured university professor at such a young age, he would reply, “Call me at my office any Friday night at 10:00 and I will tell you the answer.”  As I said, there is much about the book that I like.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that I liked everything that Randy Pausch had to say.  The only thing that disappointed me about the book was what he did not say.

     Randy Pausch is now dead, and I would have been interested in hearing from such a wise and optimistic man what he believed was going to happen to him when his earthly life was over.  He referred to this subject only once in the book, and that was to say he was not going to say anything about it.  He said he belonged to a Presbyterian church, but that is the only thing he said about religion.  I wish he would have said more.  Reading between the lines I have some guesses as to what he believed about what lies beyond death, but I don’t want to make too much of mere guesses.  I will, however, make some general observations of my own on the subject.

     It is often said that it is not the quantity of years you get that matters, but what is important is the quality of your years, however many you get.  There is some truth in that.  However, a last lecture by a 90 year old would not have received nearly as much attention as Randy Pausch’s, no matter how good it was.  There is something especially sad and captivating about words of this dying young man with a wife and small children, no matter how excellent was the quality of his years.  And he did have wonderful life.  Pausch’s book is filled with gratitude for what he called ‘hitting the jackpot’ in life’s lottery; having terrific parents, a great career, and a wonderful wife and family.  It was a quality life indeed; but it does matter that it ended far too soon.  We want to have both quality and quantity.

     But of course, it is not quantity of years, or even the quality of life, that is most important.  What is most important is that you somewhere along the line figure out three things: where you come from, why you are here, and where you are going when your all too brief time here will end.  All three of these questions put us squarely in the realm of religious faith, and that is the one thing conspicuously absent in Randy Pausch’s last lecture.

     The question of why we are here and where we are going has two possible answers:  one comes from an old beer commercial, and the other comes from the Bible.  You can decide which one you like best, which one has the most credibility, and which one you will live your life by.  And your answer will make all the difference, now and forever.  The old beer commercial says, “You only go around once in life, so grab all you can this time around;” and the message of Bible is, “I am but a pilgrim here, passing through on my way to a better home.”  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 12:1…7  —  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…” and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 

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 duty of all mankind.

Psalm 23:6  —  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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Let our chief goal, O God, be your glory, and to enjoy you forever.  Amen.  –John Calvin