749) Jimmy (part two of two)

     

     (…continued)  We can easily see the foolishness of Jimmy in the story.  He said he was independent of his parents, and he said he did not need them anymore.  But he still sat at their table, ate the food his mother prepared, watched the TV his dad bought, slept in a home provided by his parents, and played with toys his parents gave him.  Jimmy fed himself and walked around by himself and thought he was on his own, but it is easy to see the foolishness in that.

     It is not so easy to see the foolishness in ourselves when we make the same mistake in regards to our dependence on God.  We work hard, we earn our living, we support ourselves, and we’re proud of it.  It may look to us like we are on our own.  But if we forget God, our pride and independence is just as foolish and unrealistic as Jimmy’s.  It is, after all, God who gave us this life in the first place, God who keeps our hearts beating and gives us the air we breath, God who gives the sun and the rain to grow the food we eat.  It is ALL from God.  To think we support ourselves in this life because we work, is like Jimmy believing he was on his own because he fed himself.  How could Jimmy think that as a five year old he could do without his parents.  How can any little human being think that they can do without God?

     There were times when Jimmy was forced to face the fact that he was not on his own and did need his parents; like the time he cut his knee.  He then ran to his mother, knowing he needed her help.  Those times come for adults too; times of illness or old age or despair or death when we come to realize that we are not in control, that our lives are not in our own hands, and that we cannot, in the end, control our own destiny.  Then, like Jimmy returning to his mother, we may return to God and call upon Him.

     I once heard a man speak about his father, a rough and irreverent man, who cared little about God for almost his entire life.  He was confident of his ability to handle anything on his own without depending on or praying to some God.  “That’s for women,” he always said.  The day of reckoning came for him as he lay on a hospital bed in constant pain, his body full of cancer.  The man said about his sick father, “For the first time in his life he saw himself as the poor and fragile little soul that he had always been.”  His father did then finally turn to the God who had always provided for him.  God honors all faith, even the faith of those who turn to him at the very last hour of their lives.  But God would rather that we know him and look to him throughout all of our life.  Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”

     Remember your need of God, remember your dependence on God, and remember your need to keep in touch with God with weekly worship.  That is where we acknowledge God and hear his word and return our thanks.  When Jimmy started living on his own, he missed out on all the happiness of family life, and that’s not good.  Kids are meant to be a part of a family, and we are meant to be in a lifelong relationship with God.  To deny God a place in your life is to deny a part of yourself, because you were created for God.  Without him, you are left with an emptiness that no one else or nothing else can ever fill.  The story of Jimmy is a sad and pathetic story of a boy who tried to break away from his parents because he wanted to gain what he thought was most important; freedom, independence, and something to call his own.  But in doing so, he ended up losing everything that is really most important; the caring, sharing, and happiness that comes in being part of a loving family.  The Bible tells us that is what happens to a person who ignores God.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

     One more thing from the story.  Remember them Jimmy’s mother and father? They loved and cared for Jimmy before he could walk or talk or do anything, all without receiving anything in return.  That’s what parents do.  Then, even when Jimmy turned away from them, they still loved him and cared for him, just as much as before.  The parents could not let him go, and still provided for him even though he ignored them.  God’s love is like that.  His care and promises do not end right away if we fail to pay attention to him or trust in him.  He waits for us, tries to win us back, and is ready to receive us with open arms; that is, if we do not wait too long.  We have our entire lifetime to come to him– but not any longer than that.  God will not force on us in death a relationship we did not want in this life.

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Between us and heaven or hell is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.  

–Blaise Pascal

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Matthew 5:45b  —  (Jesus said), “Your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Hebrews 9:27-28  —   Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Matthew 16:26a  —   (Jesus said), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–The ancient Jesus prayer

748) Jimmy (part one of two)

     

     There was once a five year boy named Jimmy.  He had a mother and a father who loved him very much.  He also had a three year old brother and a baby sister.  Jimmy had a normal family and he was a normal five year old.

     One day, for no apparent reason, Jimmy decided that he would not be needing his parents anymore.  He made up his mind that he would be able to make it just fine on his own.  That is big decision for a five year old to make.  Not many kids that age can handle the world on their own.  But Jimmy was confident that he could do it.  His mother had already taught him the alphabet and how to count to a hundred, and he just decided he did not need his parents for anything else.  He would make it in this world by himself.

     The interesting thing about this is that Jimmy never left home.  He never went out on his own.  He just quit believing that his parents were taking care of him.  He had told himself that he was on his own now, and he just ignored the fact that his parents were still taking care of him, still feeding him, still buying his clothes, still letting him sleep under their roof; still doing everything that parents do for their children.  The parents had not changed at all.

     But Jimmy changed.  He used to be a friendly and pleasant little boy.   Now he never talked to his parents at all, he never listened to them, and acted as though they were not even there.  He still ate all the food that was on his plate, still watched the family TV, and he still played with the toys his parents brought home.  But he never paid any attention to his parents, or even acknowledged they were in the room.  

     Jimmy’s parents were heartbroken.  This little boy for whom they had done everything and who they loved so much, did not even look at them anymore.  And nothing they did could change him.

     Jimmy, meanwhile, was quite proud of himself.  He thought he was doing rather well on his own.  He could feed and dress himself, he went to sleep when he was tired, and he played whenever he wanted.  He enjoyed being on his own.

     One day when Jimmy was outside, he fell on some glass and cut his knee.  For the first time in a long time he went running to his mother, crying for help.  She, of course, was more than happy to help him.  Even though Jimmy had for a long time been ignoring her, she still was doing everything a mother does to care for her child.  Jimmy was very grateful, and for several days he was his old self, talking and playing with his mom and dad.

     But it wasn’t long before he again decided he did not need them, and went back to ignoring them.  Jimmy liked being on his own.

     The only other time that whole year that Jimmy talked to his parents was just before Christmas.  He remembered the Christmas when he was four years old and did not want to take any chances on missing out on all the presents.  But soon after, he was back to ignoring his parents.  Jimmy enjoyed not having to bother with his parents and depend on them for everything, so he stayed that way for a long time, only warming up to them for a while at Christmas or when he got sick or hurt or scared.  

     It is obvious, of course, that Jimmy was never really on his own at all.  All the while, his parents were still caring for him in every way.  His lack of attention to them and lack of appreciation for them and his failure to even acknowledge their love and care hurt them deeply and they did not understand it.  But they did not stop loving him and providing for him. 

     This is how silly it must look to God when frail and helpless little human beings of any age think they can be independent of their Creator, believing they do not need Him anymore.  The Bible says much about our DEPENDENCE on God and our need to TRUST in God, but many live as though they do not need to depend on or trust in God at all.  They might even criticize those who do believe in God as weaklings who cannot handle life on their own.  (continued…)

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Deuteronomy 8:11-18 (parts)  —  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied… then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…  You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Zechariah 10:1  —  Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.  He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.

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Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 103:1-2

747) Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

 

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Funeral sermon for Albert, who died a few years ago at the age of 88.

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     Last evening at the funeral home I had the opportunity to meet several of you, and everyone I met was from a different state.  Welcome to Minnesota.  Grandson Ryan and I talked a bit about Garrison Keillor who has introduced our state to those who, like many of you, were not fortunate enough to have been born and raised here.  His writings, I have heard, have made many people wish they could be from Minnesota.  Keillor was for a long time my favorite writer of childhood memories– but not anymore.

     Now my favorite is Frank McCourt who grew up in Limerick, Ireland.  McCourt is a brilliant writer, winning the Pulitzer prize for his book Angela’s Ashes.  But I don’t think he makes anyone wish they had grown up in the lanes of Limerick.  He had a miserable childhood which he barely survived.  Half of his siblings died of disease or hunger in childhood, and so they did not live long enough to write hilarious stories about it.  But Frank did, and much of what he writes is just wonderful.  He writes well, he is funny, and his stories contain much wisdom.  Along with that, he is also at times way too crude and immoral for this old-fashioned preacher.  But I put up with that because he has such an incredible story to tell, and he tells it with such brilliance, wit, and humor.

      Frank McCourt has abandoned the Roman Catholic faith of his childhood, and so now as an old man, he approaches death not believing in the hope for the hereafter that the church proclaims.  This is what he says about that:  “My hereafter is here.  I am as far as I am going, for I am mulch.  It is my comfort to know that in my future mulch-hood I might nourish a row of parsnips.”  I don’t agree with McCourt on that, and I don’t see much comfort in it, but he is half right.  After all, in a little while when we go to the cemetery to lay Albert to rest, we will hear the words, ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust… Out of the dust you are taken and unto the dust you shall return.’

     That pleasant and cheerful face we looked upon this morning for the last time, those bright and sharp eyes now closed, those old wrinkled hands that worked so hard at so many different jobs, are now going back to the earth.  Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

     Near the end of Frank McCourt’s second book, he tells the story of the death of his mother Angela.  Frank was by that time the father of a daughter, and he describes the scene at the wake when the two of them approach the casket.  He writes: “Maggie kneels beside me, looking on her grandmother, the first dead body in her ten years.  She has no vocabulary for this, no religion, no prayer; and that’s another sadness.  She looks up at me and she says, ‘Where is grandma now, Dad?’”  Being the great writer that he is, McCourt has an excellent sense of timing, and so he did not choose that time to talk about mulch.  Rather, he said, “Well Maggie, if there is a heaven, she is there,” admitting in the book he was just babbling.

     Words have always been at the center of Frank McCourt’s life.  He was a quick-witted kid who talked himself out of many jams, he was a creative teacher in a tough high school, he was a stand-up comedian, and he has written three best-sellers.  But he admitted that did not have any words for his daughter at a time like that.

     As a pastor, my livelihood is also dependent on words.  At 3:30 this morning I was wide awake, thinking about the words I would say to you in this sermon.  I envy Frank McCourt for his skill at using the language.  Any preacher would love to be able to write and speak like he can, minus the vulgarity, of course.  But I can’t.

     However, I am fortunate to have something to fall back on, something else other than my own inadequate words.  You see, it isn’t only Frank McCourt that has no words for a time like this; none of us do.  ‘Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust;’ there is not much any of us can do or say about that.

     But I do have other words to fall back on, words that make all the difference in the world.  Words like “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord;” and, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again;” and, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”  Jesus said, “Trust me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms, and I go there to prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.”  And, “Therefore we do not lose heart; though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is only temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  And finally, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me… Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Wonderful words of sure and certain promises.

     As a pastor, I am privileged to be able to be with people in the most important times of their lives.  I visited Albert several times in these last weeks, and then even in the last hours of his life.  I had no words of my own to give him, but I did have those words from God’s Word to read to him.

     A couple weeks ago, when Albert was still very much alert, he had a visit from the doctor that was not very encouraging.  I said, “Albert, you’ve bounced back many times, but it is not looking very good this time.  Are you ready for this to go either way?”

     “Yes,” he said, “I am ready.  I have had a good life, and I have no complaints.  But now I am tired.”  That was Albert– realistic, content, and ready to take life, or death, as it comes.

     My last visit with Albert was at the hospital the night before he died, and he was about as tired as a man could be and still be awake.  He knew I was there, he could hear what I was saying, and he could even respond with a very weak “Yes.”  It is a profoundly moving experience to be with a man in the last hours of his life like that.

     After reading some words from the Bible and praying the Lord’s prayer, I added one last prayer.  I prayed the old bedtime prayer for Albert who could no longer say the words:  “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  I am sure that he fell asleep not long after that, and he did not wake up.  That is to say Albert did not wake up here, but as the prayer says, we believe that even if we die here, that is not the end.  “I pray the Lord my soul to take;” or as Jesus said, “I will come back for you and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.” Frank McCourt was only part right about the mulch. Our bodies do return to the earth.  But our soul goes to God and we will one day receive a new body.  Thanks be to God.

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–Book of Common Prayer

746) The Will of God

     The problem of evil has troubled people throughout the ages.  The quote above is how the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B. C.) put the question.  Why is there so much suffering in a world supposedly created and ruled by an all-powerful and all-loving God?  How can “this state of affairs be in accordance with God’s will?,” C. S. Lewis asked in his book Mere Christianity, adding “How can anything happen contrary to the will of a being with absolute power?”  Would not a loving God want to use his infinite power to put an end to all suffering?  The answer has to do with the fact that God has used his will to choose to give us a will of our own.  Lewis went on to say (paraphrased):

Anyone who has been in authority knows how a thing can be in accordance with your will in one way and not in another.  It may be quite sensible for a mother to say to the children, “I’m not going to go and make you clean your room every night.  You’ve got to learn to keep it tidy on your own.”  Then she goes up one night and finds the toys and the schoolbooks and the clothes lying all over the place.  That is against her will.  She would prefer the children to be tidy.  But on the other hand, it is her will which has left the children free to be untidy.  The same thing arises in any regiment, or trade union, or school.  You make a thing voluntary and then half of the people do not do it.  That is not what you willed, but your will has made it possible.

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Romans 1:18-22  —  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.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.

Romans 1:28-32  —  Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

Joshua 24:15  —  (Joshua said), “If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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We beseech you, O Lord, to enlighten our minds and to strengthen our wills, that we may know what we ought to do, and be enabled to do it, through the grace of your Holy Spirit, in the name of your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–William Bright  (1824-1901), British historian

745) Something To Be Afraid Of

From “Another Chance to Be Afraid– and Trust God,” By Rachel Pieh Jones, April 13, 2015, at:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/april/another-chance-to-be-afraid-and-trust-god.html

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Another Chance to Be Afraid—and Trust God

Kenyans gathered to remember those who were killed in the Garissa University College attack.

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     On this past Maundy Thursday, students at a university in Garissa, Kenya gathered to pray before class.  Others crammed for exams or finished dressing for the day or scarfed down breakfast.  While they went about the spiritual and the mundane, gunman murdered two guards at the entrance to the school then headed for the chapel.

     After separating Muslim students, the gunman forced the Christians to the ground and shot them in the back of their heads.  During the attack, one Christian student hid in her closet and stayed there for two days.  She ate hand lotion to stay hydrated in this hot, dusty rural region of northern Kenya.  Another student was later pulled, alive, from beneath a pile of her dead peers, the image gruesomely reminiscent of survivor stories from Rwanda.  148 dead.

     The attackers were members of al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based Muslim militant group.  In Garissa, the majority of their victims were Kenyan, but inside their home country, Somalis themselves have suffered violence, brutality, and death at the hands of al-Shabaab.

     I felt sick and angry.  I felt the fringes of a grief and the cold, now familiar prickle of fear.  I don’t live in Kenya or Somalia, but I used to.  My teenage twins currently attend a boarding school in Kenya, while I live in Djibouti, a small country bordering Somalia, currently swelling with refugees from the violence in Yemen.  I am from Minneapolis, home to one of the largest populations of diaspora Somalis in the world.

     Anything related to Kenya or Somalia hits close to home.  Just a week earlier my teens’ school experienced an emergency security lockdown.  It was a false alarm, but it might not always be a false alarm.  There it is again, fear.

     After the Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya in 2013, I can barely go to the grocery store without wondering if this is when I die, while buying apples and Corn Flakes.  After a suicide bomb in downtown Djibouti in last year, I can’t eat at the gelato shop without the flashing question, Is this where I die?, with a pink plastic spoon of coffee-flavored gelato in my mouth.

     Jesus’ command, “Do not be afraid,” is one of the hardest for me to obey.  I find great comfort in Psalm 56:3, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”  David didn’t say, “I put my trust in you and never felt afraid again.”  He didn’t say, “I never feel afraid because my trust in you is so perfect.”  He didn’t deny his fear or ignore it.  He faced it, called it fear, and turned back to trust in God.

     I fear a lot of things.  Malaria.  Loneliness.  Physical pain.  I can’t sleep the nights my kids are flying between Djibouti and Kenya for school.  Easter Sunday after the Garissa attacks I noticed that our church hadn’t placed any armed guards outside like they often do on holidays.  During the service, my body was tense and my eyes constantly flicked to the doorway.

     If forced to choose between “brave” and “coward” to describe myself, I have to say coward.  I am the woman cowering behind Jesus, clinging to the edges of his robes, trembling.  I’m the one saying, “I want to be with you.  I want to go with you.  But are you sure you want to go there?  You really want to do that?

     Still, I love this brave Jesus that I’m following.  I love the sharp rebuke to the leaders who wanted to stone an adulterous woman, the serenity that slept through the storm, the face set resolutely toward Jerusalem, the desperate and submissive plea in Gethsemane.  I love the hope of resurrection.

     I would rather go with this Jesus into my fear than be left behind, safe and on my own.  And right there, I see all the motivation I need to cling to him:  ‘Safe’ is an illusion, and my lust for it can do nothing to guarantee it.  When the disease comes, when the plane crashes, when bombs burst, when loved ones grow old, right there in the middle of brokenness, fear, and the utter destruction of any illusion of safety, I need Jesus.  This need doesn’t cancel out my fears.  It teaches me trust.  And the way God teaches me trust comes in unexpected ways.

     Days after the Garissa attack, the cashier at the grocery story asked about my kids in school in Kenya, worried after watching the news.  She is a Djiboutian Muslim with family from Somalia.  Her thoughtfulness almost made me cry.  My kids were safe, they weren’t anywhere near Garissa, but the fear was real, the ‘what-ifs’ hovering.

     When I concentrate on what I’m afraid of, it inhibits my relationship and impedes worship.  But her concern at that moment counteracted the weight of my fear.  Her words were a gift from God, helping me take my eyes off my fear and instead focus on this friendship.  It may not take away my fear, but it helps me to pray more fervently with David, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”

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Psalm 56:3-4  —  When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise– in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?

Matthew 10:28  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

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.”

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Psalm 23:4:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

744) A Few Good Prayers

Steer the ship of my life, good Lord, to your quiet harbor, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict.  Show me the course I should take.  Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can always see the right direction in which I should go.  And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger in your name we shall find comfort and peace.  Amen.

O Lord and Master, I am unworthy of both heaven and earth, because I have surrendered myself to sin, and become the slave of worldly pleasures.  Yet, since you created me, and since you can shape me as you want, I do not despair of salvation; but made bold by your compassionate love, I come before you.  Receive me, dear Lord, as you received the harlot, the thief, the tax collector, and even the prodigal son.  Lift from me the heavy burden of sin.  Amen.

–Basil of Caesarea, Greek Bishop  (330-379)

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EVENING PRAYER:

Now that the sun has set,

I sit and rest and think of you, Lord.

Give my weary body peace.

Let my legs and arms stop aching, 

Let my nose stop sneeezing,

Let my head stop thinking.

Let me rest in your arms.

DYING PRAYER:

There are men who hate me; let me love them.

There are men I have wronged; let them forgive me.

–Dinka people, South Sudan, Africa

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GOING TO BED PRAYER:

As my head rests on my pillow, let me soul rest in your mercy.

As my limbs relax on my mattress, let my soul relax in your peace.

As my body finds warmth beneath the blankets, let my soul find warmth in your love.

As my mind is filled with dreams, let my soul be filled with visions of heaven.

–Johann Freylinghausen, German theologian  (1670-1739)

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Heavenly Father, after the turbulence of the day, thank you for sending the peacefulness of the night.  Let me not dwell on the disagreeable scenes of the day.  Let me not rehearse the injustices, bitterness, hard words, or coarse actions.  Being mindful of your infinite patience with us, and goodness, we pray that you help us never to harbor a drop of hatred, or resentment, or bitterness against anyone.  Fill us with your mercy.

–Helder Camara, Brazilian archbishop  (1909-1999)

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Shepherds search for their lost sheep, but for their own profit.  Men seek their lost property, but out of self-interest.  Politicians visit foreign countries, but only out of political calculation.  But why have you searched for me, O Lord?  Why have you sought me out?  Why have you visited this hostile world where I live?  Why have you ransomed me with your blood?  I am not worthy of such effort.  Indeed, in my sin I have willfully tried to escape from you, so you would not find me.  I have wanted to become a god unto myself, deciding for myself what is good and bad according to my own whims and lusts.  I have provoked you and insulted you.  Why do you bother with me?

–Tychon of Zadonsk, Russian peasant monk  (1724-1783)

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Psalm 26:1-7:

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,
    nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.

Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.

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Acts 22:10a:

 What am I to do, Lord?

743) Wisdom from Blaise Pascal

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.

There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.

Kind words do not cost much.  Yet they accomplish much.

Noble deeds that are concealed are the most esteemed.

Do you wish people to think well of you? Don’t speak well of yourself.

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason.

It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason.  That is what faith is:  God perceived by the heart, not by the reason.

It is not good to be too free.  It is not good to have everything one wants.

Time heals griefs and quarrels, for we change and are no longer the same persons.  Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves.

The only shame is to have none.

Faith indeed tells what the senses do not tell, but not the contrary of what they see.  It is above them and not contrary to them.

The sensitivity of men to small matters, and their indifference to great ones, indicates a strange inversion.

Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.

Men despise religion.  They hate it and are afraid it may be true.

The knowledge of God is very far from the love of him.

All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.

The last act is bloody, however pleasant all the rest of the play is:  a little earth is thrown at last upon our head, and that is the end forever.

As men are not able to fight against death, misery, ignorance, they have taken it into their heads, in order to be happy, not to think of them at all.

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Psalm 111:10a  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Proverbs 3:13  —  Blessed are those who find wisdom, and who gain understanding.

I Corinthians 1:25  —  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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Oh Lord, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

–Psalm 51:6

742) Meditation on the Good Use of Sickness

By Blaise Pascal  (1663-1662)  (Adapted)

     Lord, you are good and gentle in all your ways; and your mercy is so great that not only the blessings but also the misfortunes of your people are channels of your compassion.  Grant that I may turn to you as a Father in my present condition, since the change in my own state from health to sickness brings no change to you.  You are always the same, and you are my loving Father in times of trouble and in times of joy alike.

     You gave me health that I might serve you; and so often I failed to use my good health in your service.  Now you send me sickness in order to correct me.  I pray that I may not use this sickness to irritate you by impatience.  I made bad use of my health, and you have justly punished me for it; O, that I may not make bad use of my punishment.  In my sinfulness, your favors to me became snares to my spiritual life; grant, O Lord, that your chastisements may be beneficial to my spirit.  My health was full of pride and selfish ambition when I was well.  Now please let sickness destroy that pride and ambition.  Render me incapable of enjoying any worldly pleasures, if that is what is necessary for me to learn to depend on you alone.  Grant that I may learn to trust in you, now in the lonely silence of my sick bed.  Grant that, having ignored the things of the spirit when my body was vigorous, I may now enjoy spiritual blessings while my body groans with pain.

     How happy is the heart, O God, that can love you and find its peace in you.  How secure and durable is the happiness that is found in you since you endure forever.  Neither life nor death can separate such happiness from its source.  Move my heart, O God, to repentance for all my faults, and for all the many times I looked elsewhere for fulfillment and hope.  Let this disorder in my body be the means by which my soul is put in order.  I can now find no happiness in physical things; let me find happiness only in you.

     You can see me, Lord, as I truly am; and surely you can find nothing pleasing.  I can see in myself, Lord, nothing but my sufferings.  Yet I find comfort in the knowledge that, in a small way, my sufferings resemble your sufferings.  You became a man and suffered in order to save all people.  In your own body you embraced all bodily suffering.  Look down, Lord, on the pains that I suffer, and on this illness that afflicts me.  Let my sorrows become my invitation to you to visit me.  

     Uproot in me, Lord, the self-pity on which self-love feeds.  Let me not dwell with self-pity on my own sufferings.  Let me not regret the loss of worldly pleasures, but remind me that such pleasures can never satisfy my heart.  Let me henceforth ask for neither health nor life, but rather let me be content with your will for me.  Let health and sickness, life and death, be equal in my sight.  Let me joyfully acknowledge you as king, able to give or take away your blessings as you wish.  Let me trust in your eternal providence, receiving with equal reverence all that comes to me from you.

      And finally, as I share in your sufferings, let me one day share in the joy of your risen life.

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Death mask of Blaise Pascal.

Pascal, a mathematical genius and inventor, died at the age of 39, suffering from many ailments.  His last words were, “May God never abandon me.”

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Romans 5:1-5  —  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

1 Peter 4:12-13  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

Philippians 4:11b-12  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

741) If We Say We Have No Sin…

A modern way of dealing with guilt:

JOLLY OLD SIGMUND FREUD  By Anna Russel

I went to my psychiatrist to be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat and blacked my husband’s eyes.
He laid me on a downy couch to see what he could find
And here’s what he dredged up from my subconscious mind.

When I was one, my mommy hid my dolly in a trunk,
And so it follows naturally that I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer now from kleptomania.

At three I had the feeling of ambivalence toward my brothers
And so it follows naturally I poison all my lovers.
But I am happy now I’ve learned a lesson this has taught
That everything I do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault.

Refrain:
Hey, libido,
Bats in the belfry,
Jolly Old Sigmund Freud.

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The Biblical way of dealing with guilt:

I John 1:8-10  —   If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

I Corinthians 15:3-4  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.

Acts 10:43  —  All the prophets testify about him (Jesus) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Psalm 51:1-4…7-12…15-17  —  

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge…

Cleanse me, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me…

Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you will not despise…

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Forgive me my sins, O Lord; the sins of my present and the sins of my past, the sins of my soul and the sins of my body, the sins which I have done to please myself and the sins which I have done to please others.  Forgive me my casual sins and my deliberate sins, and those which I have tried to hide so that I have even hidden them from myself.  Forgive me them, O Lord, forgive them all.  For Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

–Bishop Thomas Wilson  (1663-1755)

740) Whatever Works– Right?

     What if God’s commandments are not just arbitrary rules from which we can pick and choose as we, in our infinite wisdom, think best?  What if God’s Law really is the key to how life is best lived?  What if the traditional family really does work best?  But it is science, and not the Bible anymore, to which many people look for answers today.  So what does the scientific evidence reveal?  (Adapted from “More Evidence for the Traditional Family,” by John Stonestreet, January 29, 2015, at:  www.breakpoint.org )

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     When I was growing up, no one ever asked what a “family” was.  It was assumed that everyone knew the answer.  But things have changed, and changed fast.  Dennis Prager summed it up well when he said, “In one generation we’ve gone from ‘father knows best’ to ‘father doesn’t matter.’”  Christians and other traditionalists on this issue will say a family consists of a married man and woman and any kids who come along.  Others will say that definition is too restrictive, that a family can be an unmarried man and woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.  Others wonder why we restrict the family unit to two adults at all and advocate a kind of model known as polyamory.

     “Who are you,” they pointedly ask us, “to tell people who they can love?”

     In the old days, we could point to the Bible as well as the thousands of years of history to support our answer.  But what do we do when people either reject the witness of Scripture and history, or willfully change its clear message?

     Well, there is yet another source of authority that most of our neighbors still respect.  It’s called “science.”  And while empirical data are limited in what they can tell us about moral questions such as what makes a marriage, they can tell us a lot about what works in the real world.

     And that’s why the findings of Mexican sociologist Fernando Pliego are so interesting.  Pliego, a researcher at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, looked at 351 academic studies in thirteen countries on five continents.

     According to one summary of Pliego’s research, “The members of traditional families enjoy better physical health, less mental illness, higher incomes, and steadier employment.  They and their children live in better housing, enjoy more loving and cooperative relationships, and report less physical or sexual violence.”

     It goes on:  “Moreover, when the bonds between parents and children are more positive, drug, alcohol and tobacco use is lower, children are better socialized and cooperative, they commit fewer crimes, and they perform better in school.”

     Now this would be old news to Chuck Colson, of course, who worked in prisons for thirty-four years with Prison Fellowship.  In fact, every person I’ve ever talked with who works in prison points to the devastation wrought when young men don’t have a father at home.  Chuck once said, “Every time I set a foot inside a prison, I see the results of splintered families.  So many of the prisoners I talk to tell me about growing up without dad.”  Intact families matter.

     “Professor Pliego,” according to an English-language summary of his work, “found that 89.4 percent of the studies concluded that intact families produced a higher level of well-being than other family types.  Only one in ten claimed that all family structures produced similar outcomes.  And only a negligible fraction of the studies—around 1 percent—claimed that other ‘family’ structures produced a better outcome.”

     So based on a huge sampling of the social science data, it is fair to say that the family as defined by Scripture has been proven to be best, if we judge it by its effects on the people involved, based on the many measures of social well-being…

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Matthew 19:3-6  —  Some Pharisees came to him to test Jesus.  They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”  “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Exodus 20:14  —   You shall not commit adultery.

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PRAYER FOR ONE IN A TROUBLED MARRIAGE:
Heavenly Father, I come before you today with a heavy heart.  My marriage is in trouble, and I need your help.  Make changes in my heart and in my spouse’s heart.  Make us compatible again, and bring us closer together.  Fill us with your love and give us the strength to love one another, care for one another, and fulfill your destiny for us.  Show us the harm caused by careless words, and the pain caused by emotional distance.  Bring us together, like we once were.  Show us how to love one another again.  Heal the division between us.  Make us one again.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.  –Source lost