497) Getting Serious about God

 By William Willimon, The Last Word, Abingdon Press, 2000, pages 78-80.
     Last year, on a bright summer Sunday, we worshiped with a little congregation in a fine old suburb of Berlin.  The beautiful old church was only a few blocks from the Wannsee House where, just sixty years earlier, leaders of the Third Reich met and, over coffee and strudel, planned their “final solution” for exterminating all the Jews of Europe.
     To our surprise, the small parking lot of the church was full– full of expensive cars.  When we entered the church we could see why.  There was to be a baptism.  The proud parents, grandparents, and friends had gathered toward the front of the congregation, with the baby wrapped in elegant white linen and lace.
     I doubted if the family and friends had been in church often before that bright morning; perhaps they had been there on some Christmas past, or the last time they had a child baptized.
     The pastor stepped into the chancel, welcomed the congregation warmly, and prayed an opening prayer.  At the conclusion of the prayer, as I had expected, there were three or four clicks and flashes of the assorted cameras, capturing everything for posterity.
     “Excuse me,” said the pastor, “this is not a press conference.  This is God’s church, this is a service of worship.  When we are finished, you may take all of the photos you wish, but not now.  This is what we call ‘worship.'”
      Everyone became very still.
    Then we began to worship.  After hymns, prayers, and Scripture, the pastor preached.  He began his sermon by noting that parents today face heavy responsibilities.  They must provide for the education, the safety, and the emotional well-being of their children.  Children require resources, patience, and time.
     “Unlike some previous generations,” noted the pastor, “we have the opportunity to provide generously for the material needs of our children.  We are able to buy them many things.”
     He continued, “Unfortunately, we are finding that it is much easier to give our children material gifts than to give them other gifts.  Gifts like a reason for living, a purpose for life—where can these gifts be purchased in the stores?”
     The congregation was quiet and attentive.
     “These gifts, these gifts that matter, can only come as gifts from God.  We have a word for it– grace.  Therefore we pray that God will give our children what we can never give them—grace.  We smother our children with gifts that corrupt, that deface and deform our children into superficial, materialistic adults because we are not good at giving, because we do not have the resources to give them gifts that matter.  Therefore we must pray to God to take our children, to give them gifts that matter.  We offer our children back to the God who gave them to us, and dare to ask God to form them into the image of God.”
     In a number of places the Bible claims that it is a fearful thing to be brought into the presence of the living God.  A fearful thing.  Yet on Sunday, in worship, even such fear can be life-giving.  There, on a bright summer Sunday—in a church whose sad history is a grim memory of a time, just sixty years ago, when the church had not the resources to say no when no was needed—a courageous pastor enabled us to worship a free, living, demanding God.  
     That Sunday, we truly worshiped God.
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Psalm 95:6-7  —  Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.  Today, if only you would hear his voice!…
Hebrews 10:31  —  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Deuteronomy 4:39-40  —   Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below.  There is no other.  Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.
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A PRAYER FOR SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP:
Holy Spirit, you give life; bless this our gathering, the speaker and the hearer; fresh from the heart may the words come, by your aid; and, by your aid, let them also go to the heart.  Amen.
–Soren Kierkegaard   (1813-1855)

496) The Frustrations of a Good Samaritan

     By William Willimon, The Last Word, Abingdon Press, 2000, pages 49-52.
The Good Samaritan by David Teniers the Younger  (1610-1690)
      We were coming out of the diner, my friend and I, he a preacher and I one too.  Heading down the street toward our churches, we came across a poor old man sprawled out on the edge of the sidewalk, head swirling around in drunken stupor.
     A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers…  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  (Luke 10:30-31)
     “Poor old man,” said my friend.
     “You know, we really ought to do something,” said I.  “He could get hurt out here in his condition.”
     “After all, we’re in the business, right?” said my friend.  
     “Yea, right,” said I.  That’s how it started.
     But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.  (Luke 10:33-34a)
     My friend took one of the man’s arms, and I took the other.  With some difficulty, we got him to his feet.  He was dressed in a rumpled, terribly dirty old suit, with a crumpled hat.  As he attempted to steady himself, he swerved and staggered back and forth on the sidewalk, my friend and I staggering with him, trying to get him upright.
     “Easy does it,” the man mumbled.  “Lookout for those slippery placcs!”
     “Hey, old man, you really ought to get some help,” said my friend.  The three of us, the man with my friend and I on either side, staggered and tottered down the sidewalk, people scurrying out of our way.
      “Where do we take someone in this condition?” I wondered aloud.
      “There’s got to be somewhere for people like him,” said my friend.
     “Would you mind watching what you’re doing,” said the old man in an aggravated tone of voice, “you’re going to run aground and kill everybody on the boat!”
      We staggered and tottered, the three of us, to a nearby phone booth.
     My friend left me outside to wrestle with the recipient of our compassion while my friend began thumbing through the phone book.  “Well, are we going to just stand here, or are we going to go inside and eat lunch?” asked the man, gesturing toward the phone booth.
     “Aha!  Here we are, the Greenville Alcohol Information Center,” said my friend.  “It’s not too far from here.  We can drive it in five minutes.”
     We staggered, the three of us; on down the street; with the man mumbling, “What was wrong with that restaurant?  It looked good to me.”
     Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  (Luke 10:34b)
     Once in my friend’s car—he in the front, and me and our ward in the back—we headed toward the Alcohol Information Center.  By the time we reached Main Street, the old man had passed out again and was snoring quietly on my shoulder.
     Just after we turned on to busy Main Street, without warning, the old man began to shout, curse, and kick.
     “Hold him!” said my friend, looking over into the backseat where I was wrestling for all that I was worth.  The man was kicking, screaming something about “Snakes, everywhere, snakes!”
     With that he somehow managed to kick the back door open and fell forward out of the car and into the street.  The car stopped.  All I had to hold him in the car was the seat of his pants, pants which, with his struggling to get away and my struggling to hold him, were now being pulled down to his hips.
     “Help me!” he began shouting to the people on the sidewalk.  “Help me!  I don’t even know these people and they are trying to take me someplace!  Help!”
     There I was—traffic stopped in the middle of Main Street—attempting to wrestle this old man back into the car while also speaking to the now gathering crowd on the street:  “I am a Methodist.  My friend is a Baptist.  We are clergy.  We are helping this old man here.”
     “I don’t want no help from nobody, ‘specially no preachers!” he was shouting to the crowd.
     I finally succeeded in forcing him back into the backseat, and the car sped away.  After a few more moments of struggle, the old man passed out once again and slept peacefully until we arrived at the big office building that housed the Alcohol Information Center.
     It wasn’t easy getting a totally unconscious man out of the car, across the street, into the lobby, on the elevator, and up to the ninth floor.  I had him propped up in one corner of the elevator, where he kept sliding to the floor.
     “I am a Methodist minister,” I kept saying to people who got on the elevator.  “We are helping this man.  My friend is a Baptist.”
     The Alcohol Information Center consisted of a young woman seated behind a desk.  On the desk were stacks of leaflets about substance abuse.  That was it.  When the three of us staggered into her office, it was obvious that she had never actually seen an inebriated person in her life; probably never seen two clergy, either.
     “You can’t bring him in here,” she said to us.
     “But he needs help,” protested my friend.
     “Not here,” she said.  When he persisted, she agreed to go upstairs and ask her boss what we might do with the man (who now slept in one of the metal chairs, his head resting peacefully on her desk between the stacks of pamphlets).
     The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” (Luke 10:35)
     As soon as she left the office, my friend and I looked at one another and, without a word of deliberation, quietly but quickly tiptoed out of the office and ran for the elevator, leaving the recipient of our good will sleeping between stacks of pamphlets.
     Once downstairs and on the street, we sped away, he to work on next Sunday’s sermon, me to the tennis court.
     Luke 10:29-37.  Easier to preach than to practice.
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Genesis 4:9  —  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
     “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Luke 10:29  —  He wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Matthew 25:40b  —  (Jesus said),  “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
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O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was always occupied by your Father’s business:  grant that we may not grow weary in well-doing, and give us the grace to do all in your name.  Amen.    –E. B. Pusey

495) Read the Instructions

     It is the night before Christmas, 2:00 in the morning and you are tired.  But you are still up, sitting by the Christmas tree, trying to figure out how to assemble the Barbie and Ken Deluxe Doll House.  Your daughter has been asking for that for weeks, and in just a few hours she’ll be awake.  And she will be all excited and you are excited for her.  You are anxious to see the look on her face when there it is, what she always wanted, her very own Barbie and Ken Deluxe Doll House.  But you know that it would not be at all exciting for her to see what is there on the floor now– just a pile of parts and pieces.  You had no idea that when it said ‘some assembly required’ that the assembly would be so difficult.  And now, there you sit.  And what is it has your full, undivided attention and focus?  It is that little book called the assembly manual.  You should have looked at the instructions first, of course, and you didn’t.  But you are looking now.  With the greatest care and devotion and attention you are reading intensely every line and every word.  You don’t want to miss a thing.  You have to get it just right, or you will not be ready in time.
     That is how you should read the Bible.  That little illustration is gives an accurate portrayal of all of life.  There are some things in life that you just have to know in order to put it all together, and all that information is found in one book.  You have only a limited amount of time.  There is a deadline fast approaching, and by then you must be ready.  The Bible tells you how to be ready.  You should want to know what is in that book.  The stakes are much higher than a Barbie and Ken Deluxe Doll House on Christmas Day.  What you know and believe, or don’t know and don’t believe, will have eternal consequences.  Your reading of the Bible should be just as intense and careful as a doll house assembly manual.  Does your Bible get such careful attention?
    It is very easy to make people feel guilty about not reading Bible.  Everyone knows they should read it, but very few do with any kind of depth or consistency.  So it is easy to point to what is wrong.   What is not as easy is providing a way to help someone read that big, often difficult book.  There are many ways to do that.  These EmailMeditations provide just one simple way.  Reading these daily meditations gives you the opportunity to read at least three Bible verses each day in the context of a devotional reading and prayer.  This is only a minimal amount of attention to give so important a book, but it is more attention than it receives from most people, and perhaps more than you would otherwise be giving to the Bible.  Perhaps not every day’s devotional reading will appeal to you, but you will at least read a little bit of God’s Word each day, and that will remind you of eternity, and, keep you closer to that God who holds you eternal destiny in his hands.
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 Psalm 119:104-105  —  I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.  Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
 
2 Timothy 3:13-17  —   …Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
John 20:30-31  —  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
1 John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
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 Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer
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O Lord God, Heavenly Father, we beseech thee so to guide us by thy Holy Spirit, that we hear and receive thy Holy Word with our whole heart, in order that through thy Word we may learn to place all our trust and hope in Jesus; and following him, be led safely through all evil, until by thy grace, we come to everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.
United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917

494) Buddhism and Christianity

Buddhism says, “Those who love a hundred have a hundred woes.  Those who love ten have ten woes.  Those who love one have one woe.  Those who love none have no woe.”

Christianity says, “He who does not love remains in death.”

–Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, page 92.

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John 13:34-35  —  (Jesus said),  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 John 3:14b  —  Anyone who does not love remains in death.

1 John 3:16  —  This is how we know what love is:  Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

1 John 7-12  —  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us:  He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:19  —  We love because He first loved us.

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O God, fountain of love, pour your love into our souls, that we may love those whom you love with the love you give us, and think and speak about them tenderly, meekly, lovingly; and so loving our brothers and sisters for your sake, may grow in your love and live for you; for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

–E. B. Pusey

493) Prayer and Faith

          
     Where I live in Minnesota we are again finding out what it is like to go without rain for a while.  There is not much one can do.  We can pray, of course, but we know what happens then.  We know that sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn’t rain.  Anyone who knows the first thing about prayer knows that we are indeed commanded to pray, so we do pray.  But then we leave it in God’s hands, trusting that He knows more of the whole picture than we do.  Think about it— if everyone, all over the world, got just the right amount of rain all the time, there would be such a surplus of everything that crop prices would go down to practically nothing, and every farmer everywhere would go broke– and then what?  God has a lot to keep in mind as he decides how to answer our prayers, and we had best leave it in his hands.
     I am familiar what the Bible says about prayer, I’ve read many good books on prayer, and I have a bit of experience with prayer myself.  So I know a lot about prayer.  For example, I know enough not to make any guarantees about specific answers to prayer.  Prayer is a request, and a request is something that may or may not be granted.  And my theology is deep enough and broad enough to trust God even when I don’t get the answer that I request every time, or even part of the time.
     However, despite all of my education, experience, and theological depth, there is still a part of me that likes the old story about a little girl who trusted God to answer prayer, even though she had none of my theological sophistication.  The story takes place in another time when there was not enough rain.  It was, in fact, one of the very worst droughts in the history of our nation, during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  People were already in deep financial trouble, and then the rain stopped; for weeks, then for months, and then it turned into several dry years in a row.  It was hard on the farmers, and therefore hard on the small towns that depended on the farm economy.  In this particular small town, the mayor called for a prayer meeting on the courthouse lawn.  All the people from all the churches in the area were called on to come together to pray for rain, and a huge crowd gathered.  Just as they were getting started, they were interrupted by a noisy little girl who was arriving late.  And she was late, she said, because she had gone home to get an umbrella.  Imagine that!  No one else thought to bring one.  Why should they?  It hadn’t rained in months and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  And this was going to be nothing more than a prayer meeting, and who really expected anything to come of that?  But this little girl heard that they would be praying for rain, and so she thought she better bring an umbrella.  That’s faith.  Now, we all know that faith like that can get disappointed, and that’s why as we grow older our faith deepens.  I have faith, but I probably would not have thought to bring an umbrella that day.  But I still admire the faith of that little girl.  Her faith will also need to deepen as she grows, but she was absolutely right in being open to receiving something good from God that day
     Matthew 14:13-21 tells a similar story of faith in the miraculous feeding of the 5,000.  Verse 14 says that a huge crowd had followed Jesus to a remote place, desperate for his healing touch.  They had been with him all day, and now it was evening, they were hungry.  The disciples point this out to Jesus, suggesting that he call an end to the meeting, and send everyone home.  But Jesus says in verse 16:  “They do not need to go away– you give them something to eat.”  And the disciples brought to Jesus all that they had– five loaves of bread and two fish.
     You have to admire the disciples.  They did what they could with what they had, bringing it to Jesus and leaving it in his hands.  Then Jesus said a prayer of thanks for the meal, divided the loaves, gave the bread and fish to the disciples, and told them to give it to the people.  At that point, to even begin to hand out such a meager amount of food to 5,000 men plus women and children displays a faith on the part of the disciples similar to that of the little girl who brought the umbrella.  This was a test of their faith.  Jesus was often testing their faith and the disciples often failed the test.  But here they came through.  They stepped out in faith without knowing what would happen, and the loaves and fishes were multiplied thousands of times over.  Everyone ate and was full and the leftovers filled twelve baskets.
     We can learn much about faith and about prayer from these two stories.  The little girl and the disciples were ready to move forward in faith, even though it looked as if there would be no chance of success.  Sometimes such faith is blessed, and we want to be open to that.  And sometimes there is not a happy ending–  and that was the case even for Jesus.  One of the most famous prayers ever said by anyone was said by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  His request was that he would not have to endure the suffering that was before him.  And what happened?  Jesus did not get what he requested, the suffering came, and Jesus was ready to endure it.  He had prayed that it could be avoided, but then left it in his Father’s hands, saying “Not my will but thine be done.”
      When we pray we want to remain open to receiving great things from God, and, we want to be ready to leave the results in his hands, receiving from him whatever he does for us, or, allows to happen to us.  To put it simply, we might say, “Faith trusts, and faith adjusts.”  Then even as we adjust to whatever it is we receive from God, we continue to trust.  Jesus endured the suffering and on Good Friday he died.  But then on Easter Sunday he rose from the dead, victorious over the grave.  By believing in Jesus we have also the promise of victory over death.  There will be many ups and downs along the way, but in the end, we will not be disappointed.
     A pastor I know tells about a parishioner who stopped in to see him one day.  He said, “Pastor, you have been here a long time and I have learned much about faith from your preaching.”
     “Yes,” the pastor said, “you have heard a lot of sermons.”
     “Well,” said the man, “we’re about to find out if I am really on board with this faith.”
     “What do you mean?,” the preacher asked.
      “I just found out that I have cancer,” the man said, “and the doctors aren’t giving me any guarantees.  They think they might have detected it early enough, but they are not sure.  They want to do more tests, and then start some kind of treatment.  But, I can see that this is more than a medical matter for me.  This is my day for a religious exam.  We’re about to find out what my faith is made of, aren’t we?”
     The preacher agreed.  Such times give us an opportunity to do some deeper thinking about faith and prayer and how it works.  And for some, faith and prayer will lead to healing, unexpected, miraculous healing– as unexpected as 5,000 people being fed out of a single picnic basket.  Other times, healing does not come.  But even then, with faith in God, there is still a deeper hope.     
     After the funeral of her daughter who died in an accident a mother said, “I never thought much about the resurrection.  I never needed to– until now.  But now I see that everything depends on what I believe to be true about the end.”
     We pray and we trust; but no matter how God responds to our requests, we do not need to fear the next minutes because we know that God holds the last hour in his hand– and he has promised us life.  Believe it and you will be saved.
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Revelation 1:17-18  —  …He placed his right hand on me and said:  “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”
Luke 11:9-10  —  (Jesus said),“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Romans 5:3-5  —  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
Luke 22:41-42  —   (Jesus) withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”
 
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 Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
 –Jesus, Matthew 6:9-10

492) Wisdom from William Wilberforce

Willliam Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a British politician, philanthropist, and a leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.
Let everyone regulate his conduct by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.
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When we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is there in this life that should make any man go against the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice, and the laws of God?
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The objects of the present life fill the human eye with a false magnification because of their immediacy.
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I take courage, I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firm step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand; the goal of which is the total abolition of the slave trade.
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To all the inhabitants of the British Empire, who value the favor of God, or are alive to the interests or honor of their country–  to all who have any respect for justice, or any feelings of humanity, I would solemnly address myself:  I call upon them, as they shall hereafter answer, in the great day of account, for the use they shall have made of any power or influence with which God entrusted them, to employ their best endeavors, to terminate the business of Negro Slavery.  (edited)
— from An Appeal to the Religion, Justice, and Humanity of the Inhabitants of the British Empire
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If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.
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Selfishness is one of the principal fruits of the corruption of human nature; and it is obvious that selfishness disposes us to over-rate our good qualities, and to overlook our defects.
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The majority of nominal Christians are almost entirely taken up with the concerns of the present world.  They know indeed that they are mortal, but they do not feel it.  They understand the truth, but it cannot gain admission into their hearts.  This attitude is altogether different from that strong impression of the infinite importance of eternal things, which, combined with a sense of the shortness and uncertainty of this life, can produce a certain firmness, which hardens us against the buffetings of fate, and prevents our being very deeply bothered by the cares and interests, the good or evil, of this transitory state.   (edited)

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Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” 

James 4:17  —  Anyone… who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.  

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

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    Almighty and merciful Father, who hast created me to love and serve thee, enable me… that I may henceforward lead a new life in thy faith and fear.  Thou who knowest my frailties and infirmities strengthen and support me.  Grant me thy Holy Spirit, that after all lapses, I may now continue steadfast in obedience, (and) that after long habits of negligence and sin, I may, at last, work out my salvation with diligence and constancy, purify my thoughts from pollutions, and fix my affections on things eternal.  Much of my time past has been spent in sloth, let not what remains, O Lord, be given me in vain, but let me from this time lead a better life and serve thee with a quiet mind.  Amen.     –Samuel Johnson  (in 1758)

491) The View from the Mountaintop

   
     On April 3, 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech in Memphis, Tennessee.  In that speech he reviewed the previous several years of the long struggle for equal rights for his people in this country.  He talked about his place in that struggle, and how his life had been threatened many times.  He described how several years before, when he was in New York City, a lady came out of the crowd and stabbed him in the chest.  He was rushed to the hospital where doctors carefully removed the knife.  The newspapers reported that the doctors said the tip of the knife was just a fraction of an inch from his aorta, and if he would have so much as sneezed the knife would have punctured his aorta and he would have very quickly bled to death.  King said in the speech that while he was in the hospital he received many letters and calls from many famous people wishing him well, but his favorite letter of all was from a little girl who wrote just one line.  She wrote, “Dr. King, I am sure glad you didn’t sneeze.”  King went on to say that he was glad too, and that since then he had been able to be a part of many good things, and much had been accomplished.  But he said, the dangers remain, and the threats keep coming.  Even his flight to Memphis that day had been delayed because of a bomb threat.  But, King said, “it doesn’t matter to me anymore.”  And then he concluded his speech with these sentences.  He said, “It really doesn’t matter now what happens (to me)… (because)…  I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  He has allowed me to go up to the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.  And I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”  And those were the last words of Martin Luther King’s last speech.  The next evening, April 4, 1968, King was shot and killed as he stood on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis.  He was dead at the age of 39.  He had brought his people so very far along on their journey, and he told them he could see the promised land ahead.  But he did not get there with them.
     The courageous civil rights leader Dr. King was first and foremost a powerful preacher, the Rev. King.  And he never tried keep the two separate, but was always doing both.  So in his sermons he was always talking about civil rights and non-violent resistance, and in his speeches to the public he was always mixing in the Bible and faith in the Lord Jesus who taught us to love our enemies.  King had come to Memphis to help negotiate a settlement between the city and some black garbage haulers who were being treated unfairly, but he began by talking about a 3,400 year old Bible story.  When King was talking about being to the mountain-top and seeing the promised land from there, he was referring to a story of Moses from Deuteronomy chapter 34.  Moses had also led his people a good part of the way on their journey; in fact, almost all of the way.  But because of an act of angry disobedience by Moses many years before, God had told him that he would not enter the promised land with his people.  Therefore, just before his death, God led Moses up Mt. Nebo, high enough to get a view of that promised land.  And there, after taking a brief look, Moses died.
     There are at least two things we can learn from these views from the mountaintopFirst of all, knowing the promised land is out ahead gives us something to live for and work toward, if not for ourselves, then for the next generation.  I think of the old immigrants (in my case, ancestors from Germany), leaving homes and families, to come here to Minnesota and work hard, every day, for the rest of their lives, so that future generations, so that I, could have a better life.
    Everyone of us has a ‘promised land,’ a goal, something we have sought and longed and worked for.  Sometimes we achieve our temporary promised land in this little life; sometimes all we can do is look longingly at it, as Moses looked at Canaan from the top of Mt. Nebo; and sometimes we are just here to clear the way for others to follow.
     Martin Luther King was inspired by Moses to take the long view, knowing that even though he may not get to the promised land, he was far enough along to see it, and close enough that he knew others would get there.  He took comfort in knowing that, like Moses, even though he himself would not get there, he had been used by God to see to it that others, in future generations, would arrive.  And he had no way of knowing how else God would make use of his work and his sacrifice to inspire others in the future.
     During the coup by hard-line Communists in the waning days of the Soviet Union, Russian leader Boris Yeltsin literally faced down tanks in the street in front of the parliament building.  Later, someone asked Yeltsin what gave him the courage to face the tanks.  He said he had been inspired by Lech Walesa and his Solidarity movement in Poland.  When Lech Walesa was asked what gave him the strength to organize Solidarity and defy the Soviets, he said that he had been inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King.  And when Dr. King was asked what inspired his leadership of the civil rights’ movement, he said that he had been inspired by Rosa Parks’ defiance of segregation on a bus ride home from work in Montgomery, Alabama.   Therefore, it can be said that the Soviet Union fell (at least in part) because a middle-aged black seamstress with tired feet refused to give up her seat to a white man.  And I have read Rosa Parks story, and I know what inspired her.  It was her strong faith in Jesus Christ, who she describes as the source of her strength and the center of her life (see Quiet Strength: The Faith, the Hope, and the Heart of the Woman Who Changed A Nation).
     There is a second lesson that we can learn from this, and that is that there is always a promised land farther down the road.  No matter who we are, or how close we are to the end of the road in this life, there is the real, the ultimate, promised land of God still out ahead of us.  Jesus told us he is going on ahead of us, and he is preparing a place for us, and he has shown us the way; and that way is to believe in Him, as the Way and the Truth and the Life.  Therefore, the Bible, and the good news of Jesus Christ that we read about there, is our mountaintop from which we can see our ultimate promised land, God’s heavenly home prepared ahead of time, by Jesus, for all who believe in Him.
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Deuteronomy 34:1, 4-6  —  Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo…  There the Lord showed him the whole land...  Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’  I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not crossover into it.”  And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.
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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Jesse Jackson was standing next to Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was killed.  Jackson reported that just before the fatal shot was fired, King turned to the musician scheduled to perform that evening at an event King was attending, and said, “Ben, make sure you play Precious Lord, Take My Hand in the meeting tonight.  And play it real pretty.”  It is a song that looks out ahead to that promised land of peace and rest which King entered just a few moments later.  (For more on this song see Emailmeditation #2)
Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
 When my way grows drear precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home
When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.
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The last three minutes of Martin Luther King’s last speech:

490) Early Christian Testimonies

From The Early Christians: In Their Own Words , (ch. 3, #28);  Selected and Edited by Eberhard Arnold (1883-1935)

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    …We do not give up our confession though we be executed by the sword, though we be crucified, thrown to wild beasts, put in chains, and exposed to fire and every other kind of torture.  Everyone knows this.  On the contrary, the more we are persecuted and martyred, the more do others in ever-increasing numbers become believers and God-fearing people through the name of Jesus.  –Justin Martyr,  Dialogue with Trypho, (approx. 135 A. D.)
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The Martyrdom of Justin, Rome, approximately 163 – 167 A. D. :
    Rusticus the Magistrate asked, “Which branch of knowledge do you study?”
    Justin answered, “I endeavored to acquaint myself with all systems.  In the end I surrendered to the true teachings of the Christians.  These teachings do not please those who are caught up in false beliefs.”
    Rusticus answered, “And you enjoy the teachings of these people, you utterly wretched man?”
    Justin replied, “The worship of the God of the Christians consists in our belief in the one God who has made and brought forth the whole creation; and in the Lord Jesus Christ whom the prophets foretold in this way:  He would appear to the human race as the herald of salvation and the proclaimer of precious truth.”
    Rusticus said to Justin, “Listen, you who are called a learned man.  You think that you possess true insight; if you should be scourged and beheaded, do you believe you will ascend into heaven?”
    Justin answered, “I believe that if I endure these things I shall have what he promises.”
    Rusticus said, “Do you suppose, then, that you will ascend into heaven and receive some reward there?”
    Justin said, “I do not suppose it; I know it.  I am certain of it.”
    Rusticus, said, “We have to come now finally to the matter in hand.  It is getting urgent.  Come here and with one accord offer a sacrifice to the gods.”
    Justin answered, “No right-thinking person slanders communion with God by going to godlessness.”
    Rusticus said, “Unless you obey, you will be mercilessly punished.”
    Justin answered, “It is our wish to be martyred for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and so be saved.  This will be our salvation and our confidence at the much more fearful judgment seat of our Lord and Savior, who will demand that the whole world come before his forum.”
    So also said the other martyrs, “Do what you will, for we are Christians and do not sacrifice to idols.”
    Then Rusticus, the city Magistrate, pronounced sentence:  “These people, who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and do not obey the command of the Emperor, shall be scourged, and then taken away to be beheaded according to the law.”
                                                                                                                                                           ———————–
    That we for the most part must be considered poor is no disgrace to us but an honor.  A life of luxury weakens the spirit.  Frugality makes it strong.  And yet, how can anyone be considered poor who does not feel any want, who does not covet what belongs to others, who is rich in God’s eyes?  Much more should he be considered poor who always craves for more while he already has much…  Just as a man traveling on the road is the better off the lighter his bundle, so too, he who makes himself light by poverty, who does not need to pant under the burden of wealth, is happiest on his journey through life.  If we regarded wealth as useful we would ask God for it.  He surely could give us a share of it, for everything belongs to him, but we would rather despise wealth than have it in our hands.       
–Minucius Felix   (late second century A.D.)

 Reprinted from http://www.bruderhof.com  Copyright 2003 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc.  Used with permission.  View this book and many others from Plough Publishing at http://www.plough.com

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Matthew 5:10-12  —   (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
 
Romans 8:31-32…35…37  —  What, then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…   Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
 
I Peter 4:12-16  —  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.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.
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    Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption:  Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.    –Book of Common Prayer

 

489) Sin and Temptation

By C.  S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

     If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong.  The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins.  All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual:  the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred.  For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become.  They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self.  The Diabolical self is the worse of the two.  That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.  But, of course, it is better to be neither.

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     You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realize that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues.  A week is not enough.  Things often go swimmingly for the first week.  Try six weeks.  By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will have discovered some truths about oneself.  No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.  A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means.  This is an obvious lie.  Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.  After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in.  You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness.  They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.  We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it…

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Every saint has a past.  Every sinner has a future.

–Oscar Wilde

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Mark 7:20-23  —  Jesus went on:  “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

I Timothy 1:15  —  This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

Philippians 4:8  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely,whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

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God, have pity on me, a sinner.

–Luke 18:13

488) A Story from Alcoholics Anonymous

The Meeting With Joe, by Gary S.  (source lost)

     One cold winter morning as I looked out my bedroom window at the gray, bleak landscape I wondered, What is my life worth?  Where do I fit into the scheme of things?  I felt completely overwhelmed by rejection.  I couldn’t see any hope in my future.  And when I considered my past, I didn’t like anything I saw.

     I was 45 years old, and had recently lost my job.  I was getting no response to the dozens of resumés I sent out.  The idea of taking a drink occurred to me, but I had already been down that road.  Alcohol had wreaked havoc on my life, but I’d been sober now for eight years.  For what? part of me sneered.  Alone in my house, I sank deeper and deeper into despair.  My head ached as I fought one black thought after another.  Am I losing my mind?

     I kept picturing the 12-gauge shotgun in the attic.  Over and over my mind took me back to that loaded gun.

     Suddenly a new thought came out of nowhere:  Go see Joe.

     I had met Joe at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.  A straight-talking trucker and farmer who was as opinionated as people come, he was as different from me as could be.  But I admired his frankness and eventually asked him to be my sponsor, another recovering alcoholic I could always talk to one-on-one.

     “Sure,” he had agreed.  “Helping you helps, me.”  I had no idea what I could possibly offer him.

     Afraid of what I might do if I stayed alone, I forced myself to get into my car.  I drove the three miles to Joe’s and found him in his barnlike garage, standing near his wood-burning stove.  He acted as though I was just the person he wanted to see.  Soon he was telling me about things that were hurting him, trying to sort them out.  He must have gone on for two hours, with me just listening, both of us sitting by the stove, tossing in a log every once in a while.  Finally we said good-bye.

     On my drive home I realized I had made it through the day.  My troubles weren’t over, but hearing about Joe’s struggles had really helped me.  I almost had to smile.  Joe, you don’t know it, but you saved my life today.

    At an AA meeting about a week later, I nodded to Joe across the room.   The group recited the ‘Serenity Prayer,’ then we took turns talking.  Joe said, “A week ago my life seemed hopeless.  In fact, I had decided to end it.  I picked out a rope and the beam I was going to throw it over.  But then, unexpectedly, another recovering alcoholic came by.”

     I almost fell out of my chair.  I had no idea!

     Joe looked at me. “God used that alcoholic to save my life.”

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Galatians 6:2  —  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

II Corinthians 1:3-4  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Proverbs 11:25  —  Be generous, and you will be prosperous. Help others, and you will be helped.  (Good News Translation)

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The AA Prayer of Serenity

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
The things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.