578) “To Bring You to God” (part one)

     Hawaii is the most remote place on earth.  Nowhere else in the world is a piece of land so far from any other land.  About fifteen centuries ago some Polynesian islanders headed out into the open sea with their little boats, and somehow made it to these small islands 2500 miles away.  It is incredible that they made it at all.  In the 1970’s there was a modern attempt to replicate the journey on similar small watercraft– a 60-foot canoe.  The small group perished in a storm at sea after only a couple weeks.  By whatever miracle those first settlers got there, they were pretty much left alone for the next twelve centuries.

     In 1778 the islands were discovered by Englishman James Cook.  When Captain Cook arrived the Hawaiians knew right away just who he was.  He was God.  The Hawaiians were sure of that because he had a ship larger than any they had ever seen before, and, he had guns and metal tools and pots and pans and mirrors and so much more; and all of that most certainly must have come from the heavens.  The Hawaiians had never seen anything like it.  What’s more, Captain Cook arrived just as they were celebrating a great feast to the god they called Lono.  Therefore, this certainly must have been Lono who had come to visit.

     This raises a question: how did those Hawaiians know anything about God?  No missionaries had ever been there, and there had not been the meeting of cultures and religions that had always gone on back and forth between places less remote.  The Hawaiians were pretty much alone for all those centuries, yet they had their own highly developed religion with priests and holy places and holy days and rituals and festivals and everything else that goes with a religion.

     In Romans 1:18-20 Paul describes how God’s invisible qualities, his ‘eternal power and divine nature’ have always been evident to all people since the creation of the world, being clearly seen by all that God has made.  This universal knowledge of God has been discovered by all world explorers.  No matter where people have been found, no matter how remote, they have all had some concept of God and some kind of religion.  No people anywhere have been more remote or more isolated than the Hawaiians, and they too had been trying for centuries to approach and to satisfy their gods.  Their knowledge was limited.  They were fooled at first even by Captain Cook.  But they knew that there had to be someone greater than themselves, and at the direction of the priests they submitted their lives to this greater power, even when that meant death.  And it often did mean death because human sacrifice was a big part of the traditional Hawaiian religion.  Being selected for sacrifice by the kings or the priests would mean instant death if you were lucky, or it could, at times, mean being sacrificed to the gods by being buried alive.  The gods the Hawaiians believed in were harsh and demanding.

     In the early 1800’s, Keopuolani was the favorite wife of King Kamahamaha, and thus was the queen of the islands.  As a young woman, she became very ill.  The priests interpreted this to mean that the gods were angry and must be appeased.  Ten men from the community were selected as human sacrifices.  They were to be killed, one by one, until the gods were satisfied and they allowed the queen to recover.  After the first three men were killed, the gods were apparently appeased, and the queen became well.  The other seven men were then allowed to live and return to their wives and children.  Such was the religion of the old Hawaiians.  If you were selected to be the next human sacrifice, there was nothing you could do.  The power of the kings was absolute, and only the priests knew how to appease the gods.

     Then came the missionaries– self-righteous and stubborn old New Englanders.  They were embarrassed by the scant clothing of the natives (who were dressed for the weather), and the more modest missionaries insisted that the Hawaiians wear for worship what was worn in Massachusetts– black suits and ties, long sleeves and long dresses.  The missionaries made many other mistakes, some very damaging to their own purposes.  But they did one thing that was very right.  They brought to the Hawaiians a fuller knowledge of the God– God that the Hawaiians always knew was there and who they were already worshiping.  The missionaries brought to the Hawaiians the knowledge of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, who a long time ago had made the most perfect sacrifice for all sin, making the old system of human sacrifice not only unnecessary and obsolete, but absolutely forbidden.  And the Hawaiians, beginning with Queen Keopuolani herself, responded positively and enthusiastically to this fuller knowledge of God.  Within a generation, a large percentage of the Hawaiians had converted to Christianity.  There is so much more to this story, but the human sacrifices were ended and Christ became known as the fullest and truest way to know God.   (continued…)

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Romans 1:18-20  —  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Isaiah 51:5  —  My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations.  The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45.

577) Beneath the Cross of Jesus

     

     In Mark 8:34 are these words of Jesus:  “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Jesus tells us to all to ‘take up our cross’ if we want to follow him, and those words have led to an expression Christians often use when speaking of their troubles.  It is ‘my cross to bear’ many will say when speaking of their bad back or frequent headaches or financial losses or difficult loved ones or whatever.  It is a good line.  It dignifies our suffering, and there is some comfort in that.  We may suffer because we are following Christ, or we may suffer simply because that is how it goes in this fallen world.  Either way, suffering can bring us closer to God.  Hebrews 5:8-9 said even of Jesus, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  Even Jesus had to suffer, and so he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”   One might ask themselves, “What kind of king or queen do I think I am that I should not have to suffer?  Everyone suffers, so who am I to ask, ‘Why me, Why me?’”   Why not me?  After all, unimaginable suffering came even to the Son of God, Savior of the world, so why not to me?

     Elizabeth Clephane was one who had more than her share of crosses to bear.  Her father died when she was only nine, and her mother died three years later.  Elizabeth herself was always frail and in poor health, and she died when she was only 39.  But she bore her many crosses with dignity, and used what energy she had to follow Jesus.  She and her sister used their time and their wealth to serve the poor, the sick, and those otherwise in need.  In time, they had given away everything they had, living little better than the poor they were serving.  The people of the town of Melrose in Scotland loved Elizabeth and her sister, remembering their cheerful disposition in spite of all they suffered.

     Not only did Elizabeth take up her cross and follow Jesus, she also wrote a song about it.  She wrote many poems, and several were put to music after her death.  But only one of them became a favorite, the hymn “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.”  Every verse speaks of the cross of Jesus; taking a stand beneath it, looking to it, abiding in it, and resting in it.  Knowing how she literally wore herself out in serving Jesus make some of the lines even more meaningful.  The cross, she wrote, is ‘a mighty rock within a weary land, a home along the way, a place to rest from the burdens of the day,’ and so forth.  Elizabeth knew her Bible well.  These three brief verses contain images and phrases from Jeremiah, Matthew, the Psalms, and three from Isaiah.  It is a wonderful hymn, filled with faith in and devotion to the one who died on that cross.

Elizabeth Clephane  (1830-1869)

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Mark 8:34-37  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Hebrews 5:8-9  —   Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Psalm 62:7  —  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

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BENEATH THE CROSS OF JESUS (three of the original five verses)

By Elizabeth Clephane, 1868

Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and burdens of the day…

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my contrite heart with tears, two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

———-

Listen to this hymn at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30Xgpw1f-fw

576) It Is Well With My Soul

          Horatio P. Spafford (1828-1888) was a wealthy Chicago attorney.  He made a lot of money, invested it wisely in real estate, and was one of the wealthiest men in a city that was rising fast after the Civil War.  Then, in 1871, the great Chicago fire consumed much of the city, and, most of Spafford’s great wealth.  About that same time, his only son, age four, died of scarlet fever.  Spafford dealt with his grief by pouring himself into his work, working feverishly at rebuilding the city and assisting the 100,000 people who had been left homeless.

     In 1873, after two years of hard work, Spafford needed a vacation.  He decided to take his wife and four daughters on a trip to Europe.  They had their reservations made on a luxurious French liner, but urgent business delayed Spafford in New York.  He sent his wife and four daughters on ahead, promising he would join them soon.  In the middle of the night, November 22, 1873, another ship crashed into the side of the French liner, and within two hours the liner had sunk into the icy North Atlantic.  226 passengers were drowned.  Only 47 survived.  Mrs. Spafford was found, nearly unconcious, clinging to a piece of debris.  All four daughters perished (ages 11, 9, 5, and 2).  Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband a message (see below) which began: “Saved alone.  What shall I do?…”  To lose one child is a stab in the heart– imagine what it must have been like to lose one, and not long after, the other four, all at once.

     Horatio Spafford left New York as soon as possible to rejoin his wife.  One night while enroute, the captain called him aside and said, “We are now passing over the spot where the ship went down.”  Spafford could not sleep that night, but sat up thinking and praying and writing.  He wrote over and over again, perhaps trying to convince himself, he wrote, “It is well, it is well, it is well with my soul.”  He kept working with that thought, and then later added the words that became a much loved humn.  Out of such tragedy and sadness, Horatio Spafford was able to write this incredible hymn of peace and comfort and hope.  “When peace like a river attendeth my way, and sorrow like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”  On the outside, everything was not well, everything was sad and lonely.  But still, says the hymn, “It is well with my soul.

     The great melody that goes so very well with these words was composed by Phillip Bliss, a writer of many familiar melodies.  Not long after he wrote this tune, he and his wife were killed in a train wreck in Ohio.  The story behind this hymn is filled with tragedy, but that only serves to reinforce the message.  All can go terribly wrong, but still, all can be well with one’s soul, that soul that remains in God’s good hands forever.

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Psalm 34:18  —  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

John 14:27  —  (Jesus said), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Matthew 11:28-30  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

1 Peter 5:7  —  Cast all your cares on God, for he cares about you.

3 John 1:2  —    Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

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IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump(et) of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

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Hear this hymn sung by a ‘choir’ of one at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vG525x2mUTU

575) My Faith Looks Up to Thee

     

     Lowell Mason  (1792-1872)

     Lowell Mason lived in the early years of this country’s history.  He was born during the presidency of George Washington.  Mason’s passion was church music.  He loved to direct church choirs, he loved to teach Christian music to young people, and he loved to write music.  The only problem was he did not much time for any of that.  Mason was not yet making any money with his music, so he had to work at another job.  Fifty hours of the week he had to be at his job working at a bank.  He labored at both his job and his dream for 16 years.  Then he decided it was time to try making a living at his dream.  He quit the bank, moved to Boston, and started writing music full time.  He would try and make a go of it by publishing hymnals of old and new hymns.  He could come up with music that people would buy, but he needed to find words; he needed to find people who could write good lyrics to go with his good tunes.  Thus, he was always scouting around, looking for verses he could put to music.

     One day he ran in to a young friend, Ray Palmer.  Ray was a 23 year old seminary student who, along with studying full time, was working two jobs to support himself.  Mason remembered that Palmer was a good writer.  Mason asked if Palmer wanted to try writing some verses to go with his music for a new hymnal he was trying to get published.  Palmer said he was already burning the candle at both ends, and was too exhausted to think about writing anything creative or new.  Palmer then thought for a moment, and then took a brown notebook out of his pocket and showed Mason a little poem he had written a couple years before.  It was not written to be a hymn, said Palmer, just a personal prayer for renewed courage and zeal, written during a tough time of loneliness and illness.  “But,” Palmer said to Mason, “if you think you can make something out of it, go ahead.”

     Mason liked the poem and took it home.  That very night worked up a tune to go with it.  The next time he saw Palmer, Mason said to him, “Ray, you might live a good many years, and go on to do many great things, but I think you will be remembered most for writing this hymn.”  The hymn, “My Faith Looks Up to Thee,” went into Mason’s newly published hymnal– and it has been in practically every hymnal ever since.  It has been called the first great American hymn.  Ray Palmer did go on to do many other great things– as a pastor, writer, and translator of more hymns, and, he became an expert in Christian worship and music, quoted yet today in scholarly writings.  But the greatest accomplishment of his life was written when he was a down and out, lonely and depressed 21 year old student.

     Palmer said, “The words for these stanzas were born out of my own soul with very little effort but with much tender emotion.”  They were written not originally for a hymnal, but as his own private prayer.  And all four verses do indeed make up a powerful prayer that can be said or sung anytime.

Ray Palmer  (1808-1872)

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Psalm 121:1-2  —  I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lordthe Maker of heaven and earth.

Mark 9:24  —  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Revelation 21:4  —  (God) 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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MY FAITH LOOKS UP TO THEE:

My faith looks up to Thee,
Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!
Now hear me while I pray, Take all my guilt away; O let me from this day be wholly Thine!

May Thy rich grace impart
Strength to my fainting heart, my zeal inspire!
As Thou hast died for me, O may my love to Thee,
Pure warm, and changeless be, a living fire!

While life’s dark maze I tread,
And griefs around me spread, be Thou my Guide;
Bid darkness turn to day, wipe sorrow’s tears away,
Nor let me ever stray from Thee aside.

When ends life’s transient dream,
When death’s cold sullen stream shall over me roll;
Blest Savior, then in love, fear and distrust remove;
O bear me safe above, a ransomed soul!

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Hear it at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGKLmThF2to

574) One in Christ, No Matter What Color

     

     Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) was a Baptist minister and the founder of the integrated Koinonia Farms in Georgia.  At a time in the 1950s, when racism and discrimination were especially rampant in the South, he went into the hills of South Carolina to conduct some revival meetings in a Baptist church.  When he came out on the platform to preach, he was amazed to discover that the congregation of several hundred people was thoroughly integrated.  White and black people were sitting together all over the place.

     Right after the service was over, Clarence got the old hillbilly preacher who pastored the church aside and asked him, “How did you get this way?”

     “What way?” answered the preacher.

     “Racially integrated!” answered Clarence.  “Did you get this way since the decision?”

     “What decision?” asked the old preacher.

     “The Supreme Court decision of 1954 that struck down segregation of the schools,” Clarence responded.

     “Supreme Court?” the preacher shot back.  “What’s the Supreme Court got to do with what we do in church?”

     Clarence Jordan was not about to drop the matter.  “Come on,” he said, “You know that to have a racially integrated congregation like this is really unusual down here in South Carolina.  Tell me how you got this way!”

     “Well,” answered the old preacher, with a sly little smile on his face, “this church was down to just a handful of people when the last preacher left, and they couldn’t get a new preacher no how.  So, after a few months, I told the deacons that, if they couldn’t get themselves a preacher, I’d be willing to preach for them, and they let me do it.”

     “The first Sunday I preached to the people, I preached on Galatians 3:28 and told them how everybody becomes one in Christ Jesus.  I told them that, with real Christians, nobody pays any attention to things like the color of people’s skin.  I preached that not to be one in Jesus was not to be Christian.”

     “After the service, the deacons called me into the back room and told me that they didn’t want to hear that kind of preaching no more!”

     “What did you do then?” asked Clarence.

     “I fired them deacons!” the old preacher shouted back.  “I mean, if deacons ain’t gonna ‘deac’ like the Bible says, they ought to be fired.”

     “How come they didn’t fire you?” asked Clarence.

     “They never hired me!” was the answer.  “Well, when I found out what bothered them people,” continued the old preacher, “I gave it to them every week.”

     “Did they put up with it?” inquired Clarence.

     “Not really,” answered the preacher.  “I preached that church down to four.  But after that, we began to pickup new members.  We wouldn’t let people into membership unless they were really Christians either.”

     “How did you know if people were really Christians?” asked Clarence.

     “That was easy,” said the preacher.  “Down here, from when we’re knee high to a grasshopper, we’re taught that there’s a difference between black folks and white folks.  But when people become Christians, all of that stuff is forgotten.  In Jesus, we overcome all of that racist evil, and we work hard at becoming one in Christ.”

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Galatians 3:26-28  —  So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:10  —  I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

2 Corinthians 5:16a  —  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…

Ephesians 4:32  —  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

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O Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all differences of class are done away, take from us all pride, envy, and prejudice.  Unite us to one another by a common zeal for your cause, and enable us by your grace to offer to you the manifold fruits of our service.  Amen.

–Brooke Foss Westcott  (1825-1901), Bishop of Durham

573) Fools for Christ (part two)

     

   From Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God, by Tony Campolo, 1997, pages 273-4:

     (…continued)  Some years ago my wife and I had a stopover in Honolulu on our way home from a preaching mission in Australia.  We had just enough time to take a walk along Waikiki Beach.  On our walk we came upon a middle-aged man with long hair and bare feet, holding an open Bible in one hand, and pointing at passersby with the other.  Every so often, he would let fly with a long list of “Woe unto yous.”  Undoubtedly you’ve seen the crazy-looking type of person I’m talking about.  You find them on the street corners of most major cities.  As we strolled out of range of this wild man’s ranting and raving, I said to my wife, “It’s guys like him who disgrace the gospel!  There ought to be some way of stopping people like that.  It’s stuff like he’s doing that turns people off to Christianity!”

     An hour or so later Peggy and I were walking back down the beach to catch the bus that would return us to the airport.  We passed the same crazy man.  But he wasn’t preaching anymore.  Instead, he was praying with two rather dignified-looking men who were dressed in business suits, each with a briefcase.  He had his arms around their shoulders, and we heard enough of the prayer to know that those two men were inviting Jesus into their lives.

     I walked the rest of the way to the bus stop in silence as I asked myself, “Well, Campolo?  How many people did you lead to Christ today?…”

     In our attempt to be accepted by those who seem to be more sophisticated than we are, we sometimes allow ourselves to become despisers of sincere people who use what we consider to be low-class techniques for evangelism.  We must never lose sight of the fact that God uses all kinds of ways to touch the hearts of all kinds of people.

     One of the most touching stories I know was told to me by a pastor friend from Atlanta, Georgia.  He relates how, one Wednesday evening at a prayer meeting at his church, a man gave testimony as to how he had become a Christian while in Sydney, Australia.

     The man said, “I was at the street corner in Kings Cross when I felt a tug on my sleeve.  I turned and found myself face to face with a street bum.  Before I could say anything, the man simply asked me, ‘Mister, if you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity?’  That question troubled me over the next three weeks,” the man continued.  “I had to find an answer, and I ended up giving my life to Christ.”

     My minister friend went on to tell me that, three years later, another man came to one of his Wednesday night prayer meetings and gave almost an identical testimony.  He, too, had been at Kings Cross in Sydney, when a derelict had pulled on his sleeve and then asked him if he were to die that night, where would he spend eternity.  This second man too explained that the question so haunted him that he eventually sought and found an answer in Jesus.

     It wasn’t too long after that when my pastor friend himself had to be in Sydney for a church conference.  On one of his nights off, he decided to go to Kings Cross and see if he could find the man who had been mentioned at his prayer meeting by two different people.  He was standing on a corner in Kings Cross when he felt someone tug on his jacket.  He turned, and before the poor old man could ask him anything, he said, “I know what you’re going to ask me!  You’re going to ask me if I were to die, tonight where would I spend eternity?”

     The man was stunned.  “How did you know that?” he inquired.  My pastor friend told him the whole story.  As he finished, the man started to cry.  “Mister,” he said, “ten years ago I gave my life to Jesus, and I wanted to do something for Him.  But a man like me can’t do much of anything, so I decided I would just hang out on this corner and ask people that simple question.  I’ve been doing that for years, mister, but tonight is the first time I ever knew it did anybody any good.”

     All of this leads me to a simple conclusion:  Let each of us judge ourselves, making sure that we live out our convictions with as much consistency, honesty, and intelligence as possible.  And let none of us be condescending or judgmental toward those who are trying to do the same, even when they seem a bit foolish in our eyes.  Let each of us be as wise as serpents as we judge ourselves, and as gentle as doves when it comes to judging others.  What some of us might deem foolish or embarrassing may, in reality, be profoundly effective.  It’s one thing to be an embarrassment to God as we follow Jesus; it’s something else entirely to be an embarrassment for God.  Let us pray for the courage to be willing to be embarrassed for God.

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1 Corinthians 4:10  —   We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!

Philippians 1:15-18  —   It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.  The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.

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Lord, today you made us known to friends we did not know,

And you have given us seats in homes which are not our own.

You have brought the distant near, 

And made a brother of a stranger,

Forgive us, Lord…

We did not introduce you.

–Prayer from Polynesia

572) Fools for Christ (part one)

In 1997 Tony Campolo wrote Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God.  In the book, Campolo discusses several areas in which Christians could be better witnesses to their faith in Jesus Christ by thinking clearer and presenting the Gospel in a more responsible way.  In this interesting conclusion to the book (pages 271-274), he offers these additional thoughts.

     It’s one thing for the world to reject Jesus because the people in secular society consider the gospel to be ridiculous.  It is quite another thing for the world to reject the gospel because Christians are an embarrassment to God.  The Bible warns us against conducting ourselves so that people end up rejecting Jesus, not because of who He is but because of stupid things we do and say.  Hopefully, this book will help us to recognize and stop doing those things that embarrass God and turn people away from following Jesus.

     However, even as I try to address those concerns in this book, I do so with just a little ambivalence.  I am well aware that some of the great saints of the Church have been people whom the world viewed as embarrassments.  St. Francis of Assisi has to be the prime example of this.  That medieval saint readily referred to himself as a jester in the court of the King of kings, and his followers had no problem calling themselves “Fools for Christ.”

     I recall being at a gathering of sophisticated scholars at the faculty club of an Ivy League university where we were engaged in heavy talk about religion.  As I tried to impress my cynical audience with the reasonableness of Christianity, I made a joke of a man who I felt rightfully deserved their derision.  I let them know that I didn’t think much of that guy who holds up the sign with the Bible reference on it at televised football games, and that to me, this man’s attempt to do evangelism was ridiculous and embarrassing.  I remember saying, “You can’t dismiss us evangelicals by equating us all with that ridiculous guy who holds up signs with Bible verses on them, just when it’s time to kick the extra point.  That guy’s idea of an effective witness for the gospel is to hold up a verse like John 1:12 (or John 3:16).  He thinks people are going to become Christians by seeing his sign on TV.”

     When I finished my mocking statement, one of the scholars sitting at the table pulled his pipe out of his mouth and said, “Interesting that you should mention that.  Two years ago I was watching the Super Bowl, and just before halftime, the Dallas Cowboys scored a touchdown.  As the Cowboys got set to kick the extra point, the man to whom you just referred held up a sign citing that exact same verse—John 1:12.  During the halftime break, I got our old family Bible off the shelf and turned to that verse.  Lying between the pages were some notes about that very verse that had been written by my mother a long time ago.  I read over her notes and was reminded of many things I had once believed about Jesus Christ that had been left behind in my intellectual journey.  I reflected on those things and there and then, during the halftime of the Super Bowl, I gave my life to Christ.”

     Score one point for a “fool for Christ.”  Strike one down on me for my readiness to put down a brother in Christ who was trying in his own way to preach the gospel.  You never know what’s going to touch people’s lives.  The moment you are sure that you know what are the acceptable and the unacceptable ways to share Jesus with the world, you can count on being brought down by something that humbles you and shows you how wrong you are.  (continued…)

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John 1:9-12  —  The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

1 Corinthians 4:10  —   We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!

2 Timothy 4:2  —  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

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O Lord, let me not live to be useless.

Strengthen my desire to work and speak and think for you.

–John Wesley 

571) A Few More Words from C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis  (1898-1963)

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Mark 12:30  —  (Jesus said), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

(People are often worried when) they are told they ought to love God.  They cannot find any such feeling in themselves.  What are they to do?  The answer is… act as if you did.  Do not sit trying to manufacture feelings.  Ask yourself, ‘If I were sure that I loved God, what would I do?’  When you have found the answer, go and do it.

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.  Nobody can always have devout feelings:  and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.  Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.  If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’  He will give us feelings of love if He pleases.  We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right.  But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.  It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.    –From Mere Christianity

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From a June 14, 1960 letter, regarding grief, and then forgiveness (From The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis):

The most mischievous—and painful—by-product of any sorrow is the illusion that it isolates one, that one is kicked out alone for this from an otherwise cheerful, bustling, ‘normal’ world.  How much better to realize that one is just doing one’s turn in the line like all the rest of the ragged and tired human regiment!…

John 16:22a  —  (Jesus said), “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice…”

The real trouble about the duty of forgiveness is that you do it with all your might on Monday and then find on Wednesday… that you have to do it all over again.   

Matthew 18:21-22  —  Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

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From a letter to Mary Shelburne, December 6, 1955, on learning to depend on God (From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis):

It is a dreadful truth that the state of ‘having to depend solely on God’ is what we all dread most.  And of course that just shows how very much we have been depending on ‘things.’  That trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, that we will not turn to Him as long as He leaves us anything else to turn to.  I suppose all one can say is that it was bound to come.  In the hour of death and the day of judgement, what else shall we have?  Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwillingly) to begin practicing it here on earth.  It is good of Him to force us:  but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time….

From The Problem of Pain:

It is a poor thing to strike our colors to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort…  If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms:  but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him.  

Psalm 11:3…1a  —  When the foundations are being destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?…  In the Lord I take refuge.

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From March 27, 1948 letter in Collected Letters:

I believe that the men of this age (and among them you, and myself) think too much about the state of nations and the situation of the world.  Does not the author of The Imitation of Christ warn us against involving ourselves too much with such things?  We are not kings, we are not senators.  Let us beware lest, while we torture ourselves in vain about the state of Europe, we neglect either Verona or Oxford (their own cities).

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Take from us, O God,  all pride and vanity, all boasting and forwardness, and give us the true courage that shows itself by gentleness; the true wisdom that shows itself by simplicity; and the true power that shows itself by modesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Charles Kingsley, Church of England priest and writer  (1819-1875)

570) Charity in Words and Deeds

CHARITY IN WORDS AND DEEDS;  From the life of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Johnson’s Deeds of Charity; from Stephen Danckert, The Quotable Johnson, Ignatius Press, 1992, p. 15:

     Johnson’s later years were characterized by extraordinary holiness and compassion, manifest in the most ordinary of circumstances.

     As in his writings, there was an immediacy, a freshness, to Johnson’s charity:  emptying his pockets to beggars who asked for a coin, slipping pennies into the pockets of sleeping children on the streets so that they might have money for breakfast, frequenting an unpopular pub merely because “the owner is a good Christian woman and has not much business.”  Johnson once said, “He who waits to do a great deal of good at once, will never do anything.”

     En route home from a tavern one night, he came upon a prostitute half dead with the cold.  Wrapping her in his enormous brown coat, he picked her up and carried her home.  There he nursed her back to health, arranged for medical attention, and provided her room and board.  Some weeks later, he found her employment as a servant in a family of good reputation.  Many would have hesitated to open their homes to a prostitute; others might have counted their duty discharged in providing a single night’s shelter.  Not so with Johnson, whose memory of (his own days on) the cold London streets never left him.

     Mrs. Thrale, close friend of Dr. Johnson, wrote of him:  “He loved the poor as I never yet saw anyone else do, with an earnest desire to make them happy.  And so he nursed whole nests of people in his house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful found a sure retreat from all the evils whence his little income could secure them.  And just as he would give all the silver in his pocket to the poor who watched him as he left the house, so, on returning late at night, for years he had been putting pennies into the hands of children lying asleep on thresholds so that they could buy breakfast in the morning.”

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Words on Charity; from Sermons IV and XIX by Johnson (paraphrased):

      The chief reason for which charity is to be practiced is the shortness and uncertainty of life.  To a person who considers for what purpose he was created, and how short a time is allotted to his earthly duration, and how much of that time is already passed; how can anything that terminates in this life give any real satisfaction?  Whatever abundance that we have been blessed with, and whatever plenty may surround us, we know that it can be possessed only a short time, and that the manner in which we use it will determine our eternal state.  How can one argue that they should use their abundance in any other way, but to use it in a way that is agreeable to the command of Him that bestowed it?  

     …What stronger incitement can any man require to help the poor and needy than that the Lord will deliver him in the day of trouble; in that day when the shadow of death shall come over him, and all the vanities of the world shall fade away; when all the comforts of this life shall forsake him; when pleasure shall no longer delight, nor his own power protect him?  In that dreadful hour, the man whose care has been extended to the general happiness of mankind; that man shall find favor in the sight of God.  Then he shall stand without fear on the brink of life, and pass into eternity confident of finding that mercy which he never denied to another.

     …Charity is a universal duty, which is in every man’s power to practice, since every degree of assistance given to another, done with proper motives, is an act of charity.  There is scarcely any person in such a poor state that he may not, on some occasions, benefit his neighbor.  The widow that shall give her mite to the treasury, and the poor man who shall bring to the thirsty a cup of cold water, shall not lose their reward.

     …One of the excuses for the neglect of charity is the inability to practice it.  But this excuse is too frequently offered by those who are poor only in their own opinion, who look only on those who are above them, rather on those that are below them.  They cannot consider themselves rich if they see any who are richer; and, while their tables are heaped with delicacies, they allow the poor to languish in the streets in miseries and in want.

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Helping the poor is more complicated today than in Johnson’s day, when he would put coins directly into the hands of children sleeping on the streets,– but we can help them.  One very effective way is to be generous in donating to the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign, soon to be appearing outside of many stores.  The Salvation Army uses the money they are given to provide help by welcoming “whole nests of people in (their) house, where the lame, the blind, the sick, and the sorrowful find a sure retreat,” as did Johnson (see above).  This coming Christmas Season as you pass those Red Kettles on the way into stores, think about Samuel Johnson putting coins into the hands of the poor children in the streets of London, and be generous.


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Matthew 10:42  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Ezekiel 16:49  —  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.

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O Lord, come to me and use my bread, silver, gold, and all that is mine.  How well they are applied, if I spend them in your service.  Amen.
–Martin Luther

569) Were the Old Days Better?

     

     Ecclesiastes 7:10 says, “Do not ask, ‘Why were the old days better than these?,’ for it is not wise to ask such questions.”

     Do you ever ask that or wonder that?  Do you, perhaps, as the question implies, just take for granted that things were indeed better in the good old days?  Or, are you more comfortable with all the conveniences of modern life, happy for what you have had, but happy to be where you are at today?  I would imagine that in all of us there is a bit of a mixture.  But don’t waste your time, says the writer of Ecclesiastes, don’t even ask, “Why were the old days better than these?’” for it is not wise, he says, to ask such questions.

     The Bible is not opposed to looking back in gratitude for all of God’s past blessings.  In fact, the Bible itself does a lot of that sort of thing.  There are whole Psalms that retell the mighty deeds of the Lord on their behalf.  In the New Testament we are encouraged to trust God because we know from past experience that He has been faithful to us.  After all, the entire Bible itself is a retelling of the past; a retelling of that old, old story of God’s love for us?

     But the writer of Ecclesiastes has a point.  There the question asked is not just about looking back, but it is has to do with looking back wistfully, enviously even, at when things were better.  That we are told not to do.  Do not ask, it says, why were the old days better than these, for it is not wise to ask such questions.

     The Biblical writers always remember the past in a different way and for a different reason.  They don’t look back to remember how much better things used to be.  To do that would be to remember God’s blessings then, but to forget how God is continuing to bless us.  Rather, the Bible’s way of looking back is to look back for just one reason, and that is in order to look forward.  They look back, and they remember with thankful hearts what God has done, in order to proclaim the truth that we can trust God for our future.  And then immediately the Biblical writers go on to say that we can look forward to the new things that God is going to do for us in the days to come.  “I will do a new thing,” says the Lord through the prophet Isaiah.  “Create in me a new heart,” prays the Psalmist.  “The time is coming,” says the Lord in Jeremiah, “when I will make a new covenant with my people.”  And on the night he was betrayed, Jesus himself said of the cup of wine he was about to share, “This is the new covenant in my blood.”  Jesus was always looking forward, announcing the coming Kingdom of God.  “Thy kingdom come,” he taught us to pray; always future oriented, but based on past promises.  We look back so we can look forward.

     That is the message of All Saints Day, which is observed today.  All Saints, not just Saints Peter and Paul and Francis and Theresa and all of those famous ones, but all saints, all who have died with faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We look back and remember with thanksgiving all those great men and women in the history of God’s people; and we also remember our loved ones who are now with the Lord, or, as an old prayer says, those whom “Thou hast taken into thy nearer presence.”  So we look back at those lives with thanksgiving, and also no doubt, with a bit of sadness; but we do not ONLY look back.  Because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we are turned from looking back to looking forward; forward to when we will see all those folks again.  All Saints Day is a time to remember those who are dead, but also to look forward to a future beyond the grave, and of that time when all of God’s people of every age will be together, and everything will be made new.  

     No matter how good the good old days were, the best is yet to be.

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Ecclesiastes 7:10  —  Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”  For it is not wise to ask such questions.

Isaiah 43:18-19a  —  (This is what the Lord says), “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Revelation 21:1a…5  —  Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

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REMEMBERING OUR LOVED ONES WHO DIED IN THE FAITH:

We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.  You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you.  Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die.  So death is only an horizon and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.  Open our eyes to see more clearly, and draw us closer to you, that we may know that we are then nearer to our loved ones who are with you.  You have told us that you are preparing a place for us, prepare us also for that happy place, so that we may be with you always, O dear Lord of life and death.  Amen.

–William Penn  (1644-1718)