739) Longing to Be Free

 From The Strong-willed Child, by Dr. James Dobson, 1978, pages 181-182.

     My daughter has a pet hamster (uncreatively named ‘Hammy’) who has a passion for freedom.  He spends a portion of every night gnawing on the metal bars of his cage and forcing his head through the trap door.  Recently I sat watching Hammy busily trying to escape.  But I was not the only one observing the furry little creature.  Sitting in the shadows a few feet away was old Sigmund, our dog.  His erect ears, squinted eyes, and panting tongue betrayed his sinister thoughts.  Sigmund was thinking, “Come on, Hammy, break through to freedom!  Bite those bars and get away, and I’ll give you a thrill like you’ve never experienced.”

     How interesting, I thought, that the hamster’s greatest desire would bring him instant and violent death if he should be so unfortunate to achieve it.  Hammy simply lacked the perspective to realize the folly of his wishes.  The application to human experience was too striking to be missed and I shook my head silently as the animal drama spoke to me.  There are occasions when the longings and desires of our children would be harmful or disastrous if granted.  They would choose midnight bedtime hours and no schoolwork and endless cartoons on television and chocolate sundaes by the dozen.  And in later years, they might not see the harm of drug abuse and premarital sex and a life of uninterrupted fun and games.  Like Hammy, they lack the perspective to observe the dangers which lurk in the shadows.  Alas, many young people are ‘devoured’ before they even know that they have made a fatal mistake.

     Then my thoughts meandered a bit farther, to my own relationship with God and the requests I submit to Him in personal prayer.  I wondered how many times I had asked Him to open the door on my ‘cage,’ not appreciating the security it was providing.  I resolved to accept His negative answers with greater submission in the future.

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Psalm 119:44-45  —  I will always obey your law, for ever and ever.  I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

Galatians 5:13  —  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

II Peter 2:19  —  They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity; for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

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Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the throne of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, 1758, Robert Robertson

738) C. S. Lewis on Happiness and Comfort and Security

     What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods”—could set up on their own as if they had created themselves—be their own masters—invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

     God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.

–Mere Christianity

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     God is the only comfort.  He is also the supreme terror:  the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from.  He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.  Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun.  They need to think again.  They are still only playing with religion.  Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it.  And we have reacted the wrong way…  

     Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort.  But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay.  In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it.  If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end:  if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.

Mere Christianity

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     I didn’t go to religion to make me happy.  I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.  If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.  –C. S. Lewis  (He believed in Christianity not because it made him happy, but because he believed it was true.)

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     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, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things.  That trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, 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 a letter to Mary Willis Shelburne, December 6, 1955

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Genesis 3:1-4  —  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

John 8:31, 32  —   To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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737) Meditations and Prayers by Thomas a Kempis

By Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471), from The Imitation of Christ

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    To suffer, then, is your lot, even if you mean to love Jesus and serve him forever.  For Jesus said even of Paul: “I will show him what great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16).  All men recommend patience, though there are few who wish to practice it.  With good reason, then, ought you to be willing to suffer a little for Christ, since there are many who willingly suffer far more grievous things for mere worldly gain.  The progress of our spiritual state comes not by many pleasures and comforts, but rather by enduring great afflictions and tribulations.  If, indeed, there were anything better or more profitable for man’s salvation than suffering, Christ would have shown it.  But Jesus clearly exhorts all who wish to follow Him to carry the cross, saying: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23); and Acts 14:22 says that it is “through much suffering we must enter into the kingdom of God.”

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    Beware of curious and vain questionings, if you do not wish to be plunged into the depths of doubt.  God can do more than man can understand.  Blest is the simplicity that leaves the difficult way of questionings and disputes, and goes forward on the level and firm path of God’s commandments.  Many have lost faith because they wished to search into things too high for them.  Faith is required of you, and a sincere life; not a lofty intellect nor a delving into the mysteries of God.  If you neither know nor understand things beneath you, how can you comprehend what is above you?  Submit yourself to God, and submit humble reason to faith, and the light of understanding will be given you so far as it is good and necessary for you.  Some are grievously tempted concerning faith.  But be not disturbed, dispute not in your mind, answer not the doubts sent by the devil; but trust the words of God and the evil enemy will flee from you.  It is often very profitable for the servant of God to endure such things.  For Satan does not tempt unbelievers and sinners whom he already holds securely, but in many ways he does tempt and trouble the faithful servant.

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    Christ says, “I speak to all men, but many are deaf, hardened to my voice.  Most men listen more willingly to the world than to God.  The world, which promises small and passing things, is served with great eagerness.  I promise great and eternal things, and the hearts of men grow dull.  Who is there that serves and obeys me in all things with as great care as that with which the world and its masters are served?  For a small income, a long journey is made; but for eternal life, many will scarcely lift a foot from the ground.  They seek a petty reward, and sometimes fight shamefully in law courts for a single piece of money.  They are not afraid to work day and night for a trifle or an empty promise.  But, for an unchanging good, for a reward beyond estimate, for the greatest honor and for glory everlasting, it must be said to their shame that men begrudge even the least fatigue.  Be ashamed, then, lazy and complaining servant, that they should be found more eager for destruction than you are for life, that they rejoice more in vanity than you in truth.  Their hopes will indeed fail them, but my promise never deceives, nor does it send away empty-handed him who trusts in Me.  What I have promised I will give.  What I have said I will fulfill, if only you remain faithful to the end.”

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Acts 9:15-16  —  But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go!  This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

Acts 5:41  —  The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

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

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    Forgive me, O God, forgive my sins for your Holy Name.  Save my soul which you have redeemed by your precious blood.  Behold, I put myself at your mercy.  Deal with me according to your goodness and not according to my wicked and evil ways.  I offer to you all the good I have, and may you lead me to a good and happy end.
    I offer unto you my prayers for those who have in any way injured, saddened, or slandered me, or who have inflicted any loss or pain upon me.  I pray also for all those whom I have at any time grieved, troubled, offended, burdened, or abused, by word or deed, willfully or in ignorance.  May it please you to forgive us all our sins and offenses against one another.  Take away from our hearts, O Lord, all suspicion, indignation, anger, contention, and whatever else may wound charity and lessen our love for each other.
    O Lord, have mercy on those who crave your mercy, and give grace to those who need it.  Amen.
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    Heavenly Father, remember your tender mercies and fill my heart with your grace.  How can I bear this life of misery unless you strengthen me with your mercy and grace?  Do not turn your face from me.  Do not withdraw your consolation, lest my soul become as desert land.  Teach me, Lord, to do your will.  Teach me to live worthily and humbly in your sight, you who knew me even before the world was made.   Amen.

736) Wisdom from Thomas a Kempis

From The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

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Trust in God to Endure Slander (ch. 46)

    Stand firm and trust in God, for what are the mean and critical things others say against you but mere words?  They fly through the air but cannot hurt anything.  If you are guilty, consider how you may gladly improve yourself.  If you are not conscious of any fault, consider how you may gladly endure this for the sake of God (I Peter 2:19-20).  Why do such small matters pierce you to the heart as they do, unless perhaps you are still too worldly and pay more heed to men than you ought (I Corinthians 3:3)?  You do not wish to be reproved for your faults and you seek shelter in excuses because you are afraid of being despised.  But look into yourself more thoroughly and you will learn that the world is still very much alive in you, as you still have this vain desire to please men.  He who trusts in God, and who has no desire to stand by his own judgment, shall be free from the fear of men.  For God is the judge and discerner of all secrets (Psalm 7:8).  God knows who causes injury and who suffers it, and God shall judge the guilty and the innocent.  The testimony of man oftentimes deceives, but God’s judgment is true.  It is never mistaken, even though it may not seem right in the eyes of the unwise.

   Enduring Trials for the Sake of Eternal Life  (ch. 47) 

    Do not let tribulations cast you down.  In all things let God’s promise strengthen and console you.  He is able to reward you beyond all measure.  You will not labor here long, nor will you always be oppressed by sorrows.  Wait a little while and you will see a speedy end of your troubles.  The hour will come when all labor and tumult shall cease.  Trivial and brief is all that which passes away with time.  Peace will come on a day which is known to the Lord, and then there shall be perpetual light, lasting peace, and secure rest.  Then death will be banished, and there will be health unfailing.  There will be no anxiety then, but blessed joy, and sweet, noble companionship.  If you could only see those now in heaven, and their great rejoicing, you would be glad to suffer any affliction for God.  Oh, if these things penetrated deeply into your heart, you would dare not complain even once.  Lift up your eyes unto heaven.  Behold Christ and those with Him.  They all had great trials in this life, but now they rejoice and are comforted.

The Day of Eternity and the Distresses of This Life (ch. 48)   

    O most happy mansion of that heavenly city above, ever joyful and ever secure!  Oh, that this day may soon shine forth, and that all these temporal things come to an end!  The citizens of heaven know how joyful that day is, but it still appears far off to us pilgrims on earth, as for a time we must yet endure the bitterness and tediousness of this world.  The days of this life are short and evil, full of grief and distress.  Here man is defiled by many sins, ensnared in many passions, enslaved by many fears, and burdened with many cares.  He is distracted by many curiosities and entangled in many vanities; surrounded by many errors and worn away by many labors; oppressed by temptations, weakened by pleasures, and tormented with want.  Oh, when will these evils end?  When, Lord, shall I fully rejoice in you?  When shall I be without hindrance, in true liberty, free from every grievance of mind and body?  When will there be solid peace, undisturbed and secure, inward peace and outward peace, peace secured on every side?  O Jesus, when shall I stand to behold you? When shall I be with you in that kingdom of yours, which you have prepared from all eternity?  For now I am left poor and exiled in a hostile land, where every day sees wars and great calamities.  “O my God, be not far from me.” (Psalm 71:12).

God’s Secret Judgments (ch. 58)

    Beware of God’s hidden judgments– why this person is so forsaken and why that one is so favored; or why one man is so afflicted and another so highly exalted.  Such things are beyond all human understanding, and no reason or disputation can fathom the judgments of God.  When the enemy puts such suggestions in your mind, or when some curious persons raise questions about them, let your answer be that of the Psalmist: “Thou art just, O Lord, and righteous are Thy judgments” (Ps. 119:137).  God’s judgments are to be feared, not discussed, for they are not to be comprehended by the understanding of men.  Be careful, then, of treating matters beyond your knowledge out of curiosity.  Let it rather be your business and aim to be that you are found in the kingdom of God.  It is a great thing to be even the least in heaven where all are great, because all there shall be the children of God.  If men would only be content, then they would know enough to refrain from their useless discussions and vain discourses.

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Psalm 71:12  —  Be not far from me, O God; come quickly, O my God, to help me.

I Peter 2:11  —  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.

II Thessalonians 3:3  —  But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

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     O Lord God, just Judge, strong and patient, you know my weakness and wickedness.  Be my strength and all my confidence, for my own conscience is not sufficient for me.  You know what I do not know, and therefore, I ought to humble myself under all blame and all hardship, and bear it meekly.  In your mercy forgive me for my every failure, and give me once more the grace of greater endurance.  Amen. 
–Thomas a Kempis

735) Age and Wisdom

By Eric Metaxas, April 9, 2015 blog at:  www.breakpoint.org

     Being a senior citizen in 2015 has got to be a disorienting experience.  Whether we’re talking about touch-screens, Apple watches, self-driving cars, or “the cloud,” technology’s accelerating march presents a dizzying array of new names and concepts to keep up with.

     Traditionally, of course, the elderly have been considered the wisest members of society– a source of timeless truth worthy of respect and, in many cultures, reverence.  I say “traditionally,” but America in 2015 is anything but traditional:  From assisted living facilities and nursing homes to gated retirement communities, American society segregates the elderly from the mainstream.

     But new research suggests that cutting ourselves off from those in their golden years deprives us of something older minds are uniquely equipped to give.

     For years, cognitive scientists had a simple timeline for how the brain grows and ages:  starting in infancy, our gray matter puts on a fireworks show of new synapses, taking shape, learning, and becoming ever sharper and more efficient.  And then we turn 25, and our brains begin a long and steady decline toward senility.

     But according to a just published paper by Laura Germine of Harvard and Joshua Hartshorne at M.I.T., this model is oversimplified.  Their work shows that so-called “fluid intelligence,” that is, the ability to learn, react, and adapt, does indeed diminish over the years.  But “crystallized intelligence”– or the ability to recognize established patterns, use language, and recall faces– peaks much later.

     More surprising still, those in their 50s and beyond showed a pronounced increase in what’s called “social judgment,” or the ability to read people and discern their minds.  In one test, participants were asked to judge a stranger’s mood based only on their eyes.  The result?  Older subjects far surpassed their younger counterparts.

     And that’s not all.  Last year a team of German scientists published research suggesting that the mental “slow down” we see in older minds has little to do with aging.  Modeling the brain’s circuitry in a computer, they clocked how quickly it retrieved data.  Then they uploaded vast amounts of new data and ran the test again.  Not surprisingly, they wound up with a smarter computer that took more time to “remember” facts.

     “The picture that emerges from these findings,” writes Benedict Carey in The New York Times, “is of an older brain that moves more slowly than its younger self, but is just as accurate in many areas and more adept at reading others’ moods– on top of being more knowledgeable.  That’s a handy combination…”

     Indeed.  It also confirms what Christians have long taught about the value and wisdom of the elderly.  When Proverbs calls gray hair “a crown of glory,” it’s not trying to make old fuddy-duddies feel better.  Our God takes very seriously the respect due those who’ve earned a lifetime of understanding.  Younger people need them around, not only to give sage advice and accurate social judgment, but to put the brakes on youthful haste and to remind us of eternity.

     The elderly may not have the quickest minds or understand the latest gadgets, but they do have something young minds sorely need: it’s called wisdom.

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Proverbs 16:31  —  Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.

Job 12:12  —  Is not wisdom found among the aged?  Does not long life bring understanding?

Leviticus 19:32  —  Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.  I am the Lord.

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Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.   Abide with us, for the days are hastening on, and we hasten with them, and our life is short and transient as a dream.   Abide with us, for we are weak and helpless, and if thou abide not with us, we perish by the way.   Abide with us, until the morning light of our resurrection day, when we shall abide forever with thee.   Amen.     –James Burns

734) This and That

“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense.”
–Robert Green Ingersoll

“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
–Thomas Alva Edison

Proverbs 3:21-23 (New Living Translation)  —  My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment.  Hang on to them, for they will refresh your soul.  They are like jewels on a necklace.  They keep you safe on your way, and your feet will not stumble.

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“When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order will destroy freedom.”

–Eric Hoffer (1902-1983)

TRUE FREEDOM:

John 8:31-32  —  To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching,you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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Eric Hoffer was a world-famous author and philosopher.  Injured in a fall, he was blinded at the age of seven.  For some unknown reason, he regained his sight when he was fifteen.  He then began to read everything he could get his hands on, worried that he might lose his sight again.  Hoffer continued to read, and then write, for the rest of his life– when he wasn’t working.  His working career was unique for a world-class intellectual and prize-winning author.  For the first ten years after Hoffer left home he lived on New York’s skid row, going to the public library to read.  He then went west and worked for ten years in Nevada City as a gold-miner and in California as a migrant worker.  Then he worked as a longshoreman in California for 25 years.  In 1983 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 40:5  —  You have multiplied, O Lord my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us...
Were I to proclaim and tell of them, they would be more than can be counted.

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It is easier to love humanity as a whole than to love one’s neighbor.  –Eric Hoffer

Matthew 22:35-39  —  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

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The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.  –Eric Hoffer

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.

I Thessalonians 4:11-12  —  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.  You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

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One Life to Love, a powerful song by the group 33 Miles, a contemporary Christian band with country music influences:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJULo_zW9hA

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Be Still, My Soul was the favorite hymn of Eric Liddell (1902-1945).  He is perhaps best known for refusing to run on Sunday in the 1924 Olympics, even though he had an excellent chance at winning the gold medal (a story made famous in the film, Chariots of Fire, which won the Academy Award for Best Movie of 1981).  Later in life, Liddell became a missionary to China.  During World War II he was captured and confined to a prisoner of war camp, where he died of a brain tumor.  Liddell taught this hymn to the other prisoners in the camp to provide comfort and hope, and to strengthen their faith.  In the midst of loss, disappointment, grief, and fear, Liddell remembered and taught others that the day was coming when all of that would be gone, and Jesus Christ would remain forever.

This recording of Be Still, My Soul is by Selah:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYXT3D2nifA

733) Believing and Doing

     Doubt is a part of faith.  We have no absolute proof that there is a God.  While there is solid historical evidence for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it cannot be proven.  As Paul wrote, “we live by faith not by sight” (II Corinthians 5:7).

      Faith is a necessary part of any belief system, religious or scientific.  There is no proof that this universe got here all by itself, as some scientists would have us believe.  In fact, it takes a great deal of faith to believe in that.  Even scientists who have no religious faith at all, if they are honest, will express their doubts about the sufficiency of their explanations.  Everyone must begin with a whole host of unproven presuppositions, so no one can prove the truth of their answers to life’s biggest questions.  Paul’s statement that we ‘live by faith and not by sight’ applies to everyone.  Christians Frank Turek and Norman Geisler expressed this in the title of a book they wrote: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.

      The way for a Christian to deal with a troubled faith is not by dwelling on the faith or the doubts, as if by some act of the will we can muster up more faith.  Jesus doesn’t tell you to look at your faith.  Jesus tells you to look to him, and to simply do what he tells you to do; and then faith will take care of itself.

     There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember; I do, and I understand.”  This is the teaching of the New Testament.  In John 7:17 Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, then he will find out if my teachings come from God.”  Do what I say, Jesus says, and then you will find out that it is true.  I Timothy 3:13 says that those who have served well will gain great assurance.  You do not gain great confidence and assurance and faith by thinking about it, but by acting upon it, by obeying and serving.  And Paul wrote to Philemon (verse six) that he will gain in his understanding of Christ as he is “active in sharing his faith.”  In all of these verses, the focus is on obedience; and then, faith is strengthened.

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany, had reason to doubt the goodness of God.  He was arrested for being involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler and was sentenced to death.  He spent two years in prison before his execution, isolated from family and friends.  His faith was severely tested, yet he endured, doing what he could to minister to others who were also in the prison.  By still serving the God he was having doubts about, his faith survived.  He once wrote in a letter from prison, “If you are having trouble with your faith, then obey God, and faith will come.”  The more we act on our faith, the more faith will be given.  Our beliefs affect our actions, but so also do our actions affect our beliefs.

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I need not exert myself and try to force myself to believe or try to chase the doubts out of my heart.  That is all quite useless.  I need only to tell Jesus how weak my faith is.  I just have to pray that Jesus will come into my heart, and then he will then give me what I need.

–Ole Hallesby (1879-1961), Norwegian pastor and author

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The strength of your faith is not measured by the absence of doubt, but by the faithfulness of your life in the face of doubt.

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II Corinthians 5:7  —  For we live by faith, not by sight.

John 7:17  —  (Jesus said), “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

I Timothy 3:13  —  Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

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O Lord, I desire, in some measure, to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves.  I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand.  For this too I believe, that unless I believe, I shall never understand.  

–Anselm  (1033-1109)

732) “Do You Want Me?”

By Park York, June 1989, Christian Herald; quoted in Night Light: A Devotional for Couples, pages 42-44, by James and Shirley Dobson, Multnomah Press, 2000.

     I rise early on this Friday, as I do ever day, to prepare coffee and mix a protein shake.  The television news plays quietly in the corner.  Flossie, my wife, is still asleep.

     Sometime after eight, she begins floating out of slumber.  I bring the shake to her bedside, put the straw in her mouth, and give her cheek a little pat as she begins to drink.  Slowly the liquid recedes.

     I sit there holding the glass, thinking about the past eight years.  At first, she asked only an occasional incoherent or irrelevant question; otherwise she was normal.  I tried for two years to find out what was wrong.  She grew agitated, restless, defensive; she was constantly tired and unable to hold a conversation.

     At last, a neurologist diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease.  He said he wasn’t sure– a firm diagnosis could come only from examining brain tissue after death.  There is no known cause for this malady.  And no known cure.

     I enrolled Flossie in a day care center for adults.  But she kept wandering off the property.  We medicated her to keep her calm.  Perhaps from receiving too much of one drug, she suffered a violent seizure that left her immeasurably worse: lethargic, incontinent, and unable to speak clearly or care for herself.  My anguish gradually became resignation.  I gave up all plans of retirement travel, recreation, visits to see grandchildren– the golden era older people dream about.

     The years have passed, and my days have become routine, demanding, lonely, and seemingly without accomplishment to measure.  Flossie has gradually dropped in strength and weight, from 125 pounds to 86.  I take some time to work with a support group and to attend church, but the daily needs keep me feeding, bathing, diapering, changing beds, cleaning house, fixing meals, dressing and undressing her, and doing whatever else a nurse and homemaker does, morning to night.

     Occasionally, a word bubbles up from the muddled processes of Flossie’s diseased brain.  Sometimes relevant, sometimes the name of a family member, or the name of an object.  Just a single word.

     On this Friday morning, after she finishes her shake, I give her some apple juice, then massage her arms and caress her forehead and cheeks.  Most of the time her eyes are closed, but today she looks up at me, and suddenly her mouth forms four words in a row. 

     “Do you want me?”

     Perfect enunciation, softly spoken.  I want to jump for joy.

     “Of course I want you, Flossie!” I say, hugging and kissing her.

     And so, after months of total silence, she has put together the most sincere question a human being can ask.  She speaks, in a way, for people everywhere:  those shackled by sin, addiction, hunger, thirst, mental illness, physical pain– frightened, enervated people afraid of the answer, but desperate enough to frame the question anyway.

     And, Flossie, I can answer you even more specifically.  It may be difficult for you to understand what’s happening.  That’s why I’m here, to minister God’s love to you, to bring you wholeness, comfort, and release.  Mine are the hands God uses to do His work, just as He uses others’ hands in other places.  In spite of our shortcomings, we strive to make people free, well, and happy, blessing them with hope for the future while bringing protein shakes every morning.

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Comments by James Dobson:

     Unlike so many people today, this gentleman who so gently cared for his wife clearly understood the meaning of commitment.  As her mind and body deteriorated with no hope for a cure, he willingly abandoned the hopes and dreams he had worked to achieve.  She needed him desperately, and he would be there for her, even though she could give nothing back– not even a rational “thank you.”  This, in all its magnificence– and sorrow– is the meaning of love.  

     No doubt you have dreams of your own for the rest of your married life.  Just remember that God may have other plans that depend on your unswerving commitment to each other– no matter what.

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In the last song Glenn Campbell (1936- ) will ever record, he sings about his descent into the oblivion of Alzheimer’s disease.  The name of the song is I’m Not Gonna Miss You (2014).  This is an amazing song, with a terrific video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8TsAh-zYFI

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I Corinthians 13:7  —  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Galatians 6:2  —  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Matthew 7:12-13  —  (Jesus said), “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.  Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

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Lord, teach me to be generous.
Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that I do your will.

–St. Ignatius of Loyola

731) What Kind Of Love?

By Devin C. Foley, April 3, 2015 commentary at:  http://www.IntellectualTakeout.org  

Foley’s website has over a million Facebook fans.  In this essay, posted on Good Friday this year, he comments on some on the comments he has received from millennials  (those with birth years approximately early 1980s to early 2000s).

     When it comes to the millennials, we have noticed a worrisome outlook on love showing up frequently in the comments.  For many of our audience members, it would seem love and suffering are incompatible.  Those holding this position will often argue that loving another should not result in your suffering.  Rather, love is something that should serve you, providing you with perpetual happiness.  And, according to this commonly held view, happiness is not possible if we are suffering.

     Such a sentiment stands in stark contrast to Good Friday, which is being celebrated around the world today by most Christians. In the Christian tradition, out of his love for the world and in order to offer it eternal life, Christ willingly suffered through abandonment, humiliation, scourging, a crown of thorns, the piercing of his hands and feet with nails, and finally death on the cross.  This series of events is often referred to as the Passion of Christ.

     Passion is a word nearly all Americans would probably equate with love.  The irony though is that the Latin root of the word passion is pati, which means “to suffer.”
     Now, it’s certainly not safe to say that those who may not see love and suffering going hand-in-hand are against suffering itself.  We are, after all, a society that celebrates controlled suffering.  Consider the widespread popularity of 5ks, 10ks, fun runs, zombie runs, color runs, Tough Mudders, etc.  They are examples of a willingness to suffer so long as the suffering can be controlled by the sufferer.  The benefits of chosen suffering in the form of physical exertion as well as the pride in the accomplishment are obvious to most Americans.  Suffering of this kind can even be pleasurable for some.
 
     But uncontrolled suffering is an entirely different matter.  While Christ chose to love and opened himself to suffering, he could not control that suffering.  And that’s what makes love a tricky and even scary thing.
 
     If we are to love someone truly, we must be willing to give our self to that person.  In giving our self to another, for instance in marriage, we can no longer control how we might suffer.  Marriage and love make us vulnerable.  This is true even when loving our children.  The love of a parent for a child isn’t the same love as that between spouses, but it still involves giving and sacrifice for the well-being of the child and even a certain vulnerability.  When a child truly suffers, whether in serious illness or just due to a broken heart, the parents often feel that pain as well.  Of course, parents also suffer as the result of a child’s actions or behavior.
     Perhaps the problem is that a portion of our society has confused love as a virtue with love as pleasure.  The former requires discipline and giving, the latter merely takes.  Such a misunderstanding would be unfortunate, and leaves many incapable of experiencing true love.  But it also may not be merely a matter of confusion, but rather intentional, reflecting our society’s growing desire to avoid suffering and to pursue pleasure, to live selfishly.
 
     The implications of giving ourselves over to selfishness and an inability to accept uncontrolled suffering as a society are immense.  What is to restrain our personal pursuits of pleasure?  Furthermore, if we as individuals are unwilling to endure uncontrolled suffering and therefore unwilling to love, what bond can we have with our fellow man other than a mutual pursuit of pleasure?  And how far can that take us?  As the philosopher Edmund Burke wrote:
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites…  Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within (our hearts), the more there must be outside ourselves (laws, rules, police, etc.).  It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.  Their passions forge their fetters.
     While such a loss of freedom is disconcerting, worse is the loss of love in a society and what that means for individuals and families.  Pleasure, whether in work, money, sex, drugs, entertainment, power, etc., can only carry us for so long and it must be ever increased in order to make one feel “happy”.  But there are limits to how much we can increase our pleasure, and often when those limits are reached we are in grave peril.  How many of us are on such a course now?
     Alas, that may be our future as a society unless we change course.  To do so, though, requires a desire to change, a reason to love others despite sacrifice and suffering, and a reason to pursue virtue.  Virtuous living has been pursued in many societies and cultures, as has living in pursuit of pleasure.  History teaches us the results of each.  Which one is pursued comes down to the dominant eschatology of a society – to what end do we live?
(Eschatolgy:  any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death,the Judgment, the future state, etc.)
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We are never so  defenseless against suffering as when we love.  –Sigmund Freud
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To love is to suffer.  To avoid suffering one must not love.  But then one suffers from not loving.  Therefore to love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer…  To be happy is to love.  To be happy then is to suffer.  But suffering makes one unhappy…  I hope you’re getting this down.  
Love and Death, 1975 Woody Allen movie 
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 I Corinthians 13:4-7  —   Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Galatians 6:2  —  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
I John 4:10-11  —  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
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O God, fountain of love, pour your love into our souls, that we may love those whom you love with the love you give us, and think and speak about them tenderly, meekly, lovingly; and so loving our brothers and sisters for your sake, may grow in your love and live for you; for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

–E. B. Pusey

730) Son of Man

“Son of Man” is the title Jesus usually applied to himself.  It is one of the most often used names for Jesus in the Gospels.  It is also the least understood.  The following reading offers a brief explanation.  (From Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, pages 47-49, by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg)

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     One of the most enigmatic phrases that ever came from Jesus’ lips is his unique name for himself, the “Son of Man.”  Over eighty times in the Gospels, Jesus uses this phrase in the third-person to refer to himself.  What does he mean?

     Many Christians have assumed that Jesus is showing great humility by using this phrase.  Though divine, Jesus relates to our human condition.  Indeed, “son of man” in both Hebrew and Aramaic can be used in an idiomatic way to refer to a human being in general.  When associated with Jesus, the phrase could also have pointed to the fact that he is the true fulfillment of what a human being was supposed to be.

     Jesus sometimes uses “Son of Man” in an ordinary way.  But more often he uses it in a very special sense, making bold claims about his messianic mission.  To catch what he is saying, we need to understand how the Jewish people of Jesus’ time interpreted a key messianic prophecy from the book of Daniel about an enigmatic figure called the “Son of Man.”  One night Daniel had a vivid dream in which he saw a great, heavenly court in session.  Suddenly, he saw “one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.”  Immediately this exalted figure approached the Ancient of Days and was “given authority, glory and sovereign power.”  Daniel goes on to say that “all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

     In the first century, this passage was universally understood as a reference to the coming Messiah.  The book of Daniel predicted the rise of great kingdoms, which would eventually fall to the authority of one supreme king, a king who would rule forever.  The pinnacle of Daniel’s prophecy was this scene in which a human-like figure enters God’s throne room, is crowned, and then sits down on the throne to reign.

     Jesus also speaks of himself as the Son of Man who will come in glory on the clouds, a clear reference to this passage from Daniel. His audience would know exactly what he is saying…

     Once we begin to hear Jesus’ words as though we are his contemporaries, steeped in an understanding of the Scriptures and the cultural context in which they were spoken, the power of his claims becomes both obvious and striking.  The enigmatic phrase “Son of Man” becomes a multifaceted summary of Christ’s entire redemptive mission, speaking of his humanity, his coming glory, and his role as Judge and Savior of all the earth.  No wonder so many of his listeners responded with either awe or anger at his words!

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Luke 19:10  —  (Jesus said), “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Matthew 9:6  —   (Jesus said), “I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”  So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”

Matthew 16:13-16    —  When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples,“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Matthew 26:63-66  —  Jesus remained silent.  The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”  “You have said so,” Jesus replied; “But I say to all of you:  From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy!  Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?”  “He is worthy of death,” they answered.

Luke 12:40  —  (Jesus said), “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

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Our hearts are cold; Lord Jesus, warm them with your selfless love.

–Augustine