760) The Story of Mother’s Day

     The story of Mother’s Day begins in the 1850’s with what was called “Mother’s Work Day.”  This wasn’t an annual holiday, but was a regular, frequent day of Christian service to neighbors in need.  Ann Reeves Jarvis organized the day as a time for the Christian women of Grafton, West Virginia to get together and help the many poor people living in the surrounding Appalachian hills.  They collected and delivered medicines for the poor, made the rounds providing nursing care for the sick, fed hungry children, and provided shelters for children with tuberculosis.  The effort grew and soon there were several “Mother’s Work Day CLUBS.”

     Then came the Civil War, and West Virginia was one of the worst places to be in the Civil War.  West Virginia was a border state, formed by counties that seceded from Virginia when that state seceded from the Union.  Many friends and neighbors were divided in their sentiments between the North and the South.  West Virginia was also one of only a few states that was a slave state but was not in the Confederacy, and that left the state in an awkward position.  And with being right on the border, families separated by even a small distance found themselves on opposite sides in the bloodiest war in American history.  It was not uncommon for families to have cousins, even brothers, shooting at each other in the same battles, many of which were fought on West Virginia soil.

      There were some members of the “Mother’s Work Day Clubs” from the South and there were some from the North.  But right after the war broke out, Mrs. Jarvis called together all the members of her clubs and asked them to make a pledge of continued friendship and good will, and, pledge to continue in their good works together.  This was to become very difficult, but most agreed to the idea.  Their tasks, however, would be different in war-time.  As the battles raged back and forth across their countryside, the Mother’s Work Day Clubs found themselves providing care for the wounded.  In a remarkable display of courage and compassion, the women nursed soldiers from both sides, saving many lives, and demonstrating that Christian charity and good will would not be abandoned, even if there was a war going on.

     After the war, the Mother’s Work Day Clubs continued, but now the emphasis of their work changed again.  Ann Jarvis, who had seen so much suffering and death on both sides, now became a peacemaker.  The wounds and animosity between the families who fought on opposite sides were deep and harsh.  Mrs. Reeves then organized “Mother’s Friendship Days” in an effort to bring together these former bitter enemies.

     Anna Jarvis, the daughter of this incredible woman, saw her mother’s courageous work of love and compassion, and never forgot it.  After her mother died in 1905, Anna organized the first Mother’s Day, then just a local observance in Grafton, West Virginia.  It was designed to remember the work of her mother and all the other women who worked with her in their acts of kindness and mercy for the sick and the poor and the wounded.  In the next few years the idea caught on, and the day became a day to honor all mothers for all of their sacrifices, hard work, and love.  In 1914 President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill recognizing Mother’s Day as a National Holiday.

     150 years ago Ann Reeves Jarvis did what mothers have always been doing– providing care to those needing it, along with friendship and good will.  Whatever the changing situation demanded of them, her mother’s clubs were there to provide it.  That is what mothers do.  As Christian mothers fulfill their God-given responsibilities with love, they are also bearing witness to the love of their heavenly father.  And when the Biblical writers wanted to convey something of the love of God, the best illustration they could find was the love of mothers and fathers.  Even though even that is an imperfect illustration, there is nothing else on earth like it.

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II Timothy 1:5  —  I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

Isaiah 66:13  —  As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you...

Luke 13:34  —  (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Isaiah 49:15  —  “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!,” (says the Lord).

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Lord, I hand over to your care, my body and soul, my prayers and my hopes, my health and my work, my life and my death, my parents and my family, my friends and my neighbors, my country and all people.  Amen.

–Lancelot Andrewes  (1555-1626), Bishop and Bible Translator

759) Chosen (d)

     (…continued)  Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) has been a popular novel for almost 300 years.  It is the story of a shipwrecked sailor who spent 25 years alone on a small, otherwise uninhabited island in the Atlantic Ocean.  Not only is it a great adventure story, but it is written from a Christian point of view, and is filled with parables and meditations on topics such as sinful rebellion, God’s providence, the problem of evil, the power of God’s Word, obedience to God, and the workings of God within a person’s heart to convert and change them.  One could get a quite thorough education in the basic teachings of Christianity by reading Robinson Crusoe (I have even considered using it as a textbook for my confirmation class).

     One of the most interesting parts of the story is when Crusoe is joined by another man on the island.  The man became Crusoe’s servant– “My man Friday,” as he famously called him.  Though uninhabited, Crusoe’s island was occasionally visited by natives from another island some a distance away.  These natives were violent and vicious, and would bring captives over to the island for ritualized killing and then cannibalism.  Crusoe was horrified by the possibility that these natives might find and eat him.

     Unwilling to be the next one on the menu, Crusoe planned an attack.  With the element of surprise and with the power of his guns, which the natives knew nothing about, he scared them all away;  all, that is, except for one prisoner they had not yet killed.  Reluctant to kill this man in cold blood, and guessing that the man might be grateful and peaceful if set free, Crusoe chose to let him live.  Crusoe was therefore, in many ways, the man’s ‘savior.’  

     The man was grateful, and responded by choosing to become Crusoe’s loyal and faithful servant for the rest of his life.  There was nothing Friday would not do for the man who saved his life.

     Friday had much to learn.  He had grown up in the same violent and cruel world as his captors, and would have had no qualms about killing another person in cold blood and feasting on them, much as one would an animal.  He also had many disgusting habits and mannerisms, things he grew up with and had been taught, and therefore simply took for granted as a part of life.  In so many ways he was uncouth, primitive, heartless, and vicious.  He had many changes to make.

      But Friday was more than happy to do so, even though it proved to be very difficult.  He did not even know the English language at first.  He had to change in ways he did not understand.  He had to resist the basic instincts that he had lived by from birth.  He had to live a whole different life, and view the world in an entirely different way.  It was a most difficult transformation.  But Friday was completely faithful to Crusoe, and would put up with anything, do anything, endure anything, and obey everything; all in gratitude to this man who had saved him from certain death.

     The story of Friday is a parable of Christian conversion and obedience.  Jesus saved us, like Crusoe saved Friday.  We owe everything to Jesus, just as Friday owed everything to Crusoe. Furthermore, the author is making clear to us that we should feel that same debt of gratitude toward Jesus, and in the same way be more than willing to be such a loyal and faithful servant, more than eager to obey and follow in every way.  Defoe teaches all this by this story of the conversion of a savage cannibal.  Friday was a most unlikely role model, but one whose devotion we would do well to imitate.

     “You did not choose me, I chose you,” Jesus said.  Friday did not chose to be captured and he could not have chosen to be saved.  But saved he was, and then he did everything he could to make the most of his salvation.  We do not choose to be born in sin, but we can chose to resist it.  We could not have chosen our salvation.  Jesus chose to save us, but now we can make the most of our salvation by seeking out every way possible to obey Jesus and live the life he intended for us.

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James 2:5  —  Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Colossians 3:12  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

1 Peter 2:9-10  —   But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

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PRAYER BASED ON MARTIN LUTHER’S CATECHISM EXPLANATION TO THE FIRST ARTICLE OF THE APOSTLE’S CREED:

O God, I believe that you have created me and all that exists; that you have given me my body and soul, with all their powers.  You provide me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work, and all that I need from day to day.  You also protect me in time of danger and guard me from all evil.  Help me to remember that all this is done out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy, even though I do not deserve it.  For all this it is my duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey you.  Help me to do this through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

758) Chosen (c)

Based on a story I heard or read somewhere (I think by William Willimon)

     (…continued)  A family is out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon.  It is a pleasant afternoon, and they go at a leisurely pace down the country road.  Suddenly, the two children begin to shout to their father, “Daddy, daddy, stop the car!  There’s a kitten back there on the side of the road!”

     The father says, “So what if there is a kitten on the side of the road?  We are having a relaxing drive.”

     “But Daddy,” cry the children, “you must stop and pick it up.”

     “No,” Daddy says, “I do not have to stop and pick it up.”

     “But Daddy, if you don’t, it will die.”

     “Well then,” says Daddy, “it will die.  That’s nature’s way.  We can’t pick up all the dying animals in the world.  We do not have room for even one more animal.  Our house is already starting to look like a zoo.  We have enough animals, and we aren’t getting anymore.  No more animals.”

     “But Daddy, are you just going to let it die?”

     “Be quiet, children, we are trying to have a pleasant drive.”

     “Oh, no,” the kids plead, “we never thought our Daddy would be so mean and cruel as to let a little kitten die.  Mom, what kind of father do we have?”

     Finally the mother turns to her husband and says, “Dear, you’ll have to stop.”  So he reluctantly turns the car around, returns to the spot, and pulls off to the side of the road.  “You kids stay in the car.  I’ll go take a look at it.”  He goes to the little kitten, and sees that it is just skin and bones, sore-eyed, and full of fleas.  He reaches down, and the kitten, with its last bit of energy, bares its teeth and hisses, ready to attack, but it lacks the strength.  Daddy picked up the kitten by the loose skin at the neck, brings it over to the car and says, “Don’t touch it, it probably has leprosy.”

     Well, that’s the end of the afternoon ride, and back home they all go.  When they get to the house the children give the kitten several baths, feed it a half gallon of milk, and continue their pleading,  “Can we keep it, daddy, can we keep it, please can we keep it?  Where can we put its bed?”

     The exasperated father says, “Sure, keep it.  It can go in my office.  I’ll take my computer and papers and go out in the backyard and do my work on the picnic table.  The whole house is already a zoo.  Do you want our bedroom, too?  Maybe on the next ride we can find a wolverine with rabies and a pregnant raccoon, and they can go in there.”

     So the kids fix up a comfortable bed, fit for a king, and continue to care for their new pet.  

     Several weeks pass.  One day the father walks in and feels something rub against his leg.  He looks down and sees the cat, now grown and doing fine.  After carefully checking to make sure nobody was watching, he reaches down to the cat.  This time, it does not bare its claws and hiss; instead, it arches its back to receive his touch.  He pets it gently, and the cat purrs its appreciation.

     Is this the same cat that was the frightened, hurt, hissing kitten on the side of the road?  No, it is now a very different kind of animal.  And why?  Because the cat was chosen, chosen to be loved and cared for.  The cat did not choose that family, the family chose the cat.  They saved the cat’s life and it was transformed.

     What was that cat’s choice in the matter?  Back on that day on the side of the road, the kitten chose to resist its only hope and salvation.  The kitten did not understand that he was about to be saved, and so it tried to fight off its ‘savior.’  Only because that family chose to pick up that kitten, only because of their choice, was it saved.  The kitten did not chose the family, the family choose the kitten, and in time, the kitten surrendered to their love.

     “You did not choose me, I chose you,” Jesus said.  Like the kitten, we are chosen, even though rebellious and sinful.  We are then we are scrubbed up by God’s love and forgiveness, if we will allow it; and then we are given a life to live and a place to call home, now and forever.  Then, by God’s love, we finally begin to become the kind of people he wants us to be.  “Faith comes by hearing,” says the Bible, so listen up: God has chosen you.

(continued… one more illustration tomorrow)

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1 Corinthians 1:26-31  —  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things— and the things that are not— to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God— that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written:  “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

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O Lord, never allow us to think we can stand by ourselves and not need you, our greatest need.

–John Donne  (1572-1631), English poet and pastor

757) Chosen (b)

     (…continued)  Someone might ask, “Is it fair of God to choose some and not others?”  But who said anything about that?  Who says God does not choose ‘others?’  The clear message of the Bible is that Jesus died for everyone, and Jesus authorized the disciples to go into all the world to tell everyone that he died for them all.  He chose them all.  And so we can say to anyone and everyone, “Jesus chose you; you are the one he was talking about when he said, ‘You are my friend; you did not choose me, I chose you.’”  Jesus told us we can tell anyone we see that they are chosen.

     What if someone then walks away and says, “What a bunch of nonsense that all is; I don’t believe a word of it,”  Well, they can choose to do that, I guess, and what happens then is between them and God.  But that doesn’t change the fact that God chose them for his love just like he chose everyone else.  Why then do some believe and not others?  How should I know?  The Bible doesn’t tell us that, nor does it tell us to be concerned about that or try to figure it out.  That is God’s business.  That is for God to worry about.  Jesus simply tells me to tell you that He died for you.  As it says in Ephesians 1:4, “You were chosen in him, before the foundations of the world were laid.”  In other words, long before you had any choice in the matter.

     There is a comfort in God choosing us that way.  The preacher says the Word, and you hear it, and it’s done.  No wondering if you believe enough or are behaving well enough.  “Faith comes by hearing,” says the Bible, and you have heard it.  “I chose you,” said Jesus.  Those words are for you.  Well, one might ask, don’t I have to do anything?  Of course, you do.  Read the rest of the Bible and you will see that there are all sorts of things God wants you to do.  And remember, this is God speaking.  Are you going to turn him down, or are you going to pay attention?  Again, what happens next is between you and God.  But God starts the whole relationship with a promise.  “I chose you, you are mine.”

     It is like parents.  They start with the commitment and the promise.  They bring their baby home from the hospital and start to care for him or her.  They do not start with the do’s and don’t’s.  That all will come, but it will come in the context of the promise already given.  The child doesn’t get to chose the parents; the child simply has to remain in the relationship already given.  Then within that loving relationship, between parents and children, and between God and all of us, things can happen.  People can learn and grow and mature, becoming the kind of people God wants them to be, in a process that begins now, and is brought to completion only in the life to come.  Out of gratitude to God for choosing us, we certainly ought to want to live good and faithful lives.  In the next two meditations I will continue to illustrate how this works. (continued…)

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

Ephesians 1:3-4  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

John 15:15-17  —  (Jesus said), “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit— fruit that will last— and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.  This is my command: Love each other.”

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SOFTLY AND TENDERLY, Will L. Thompson, 1880

Sung by Alan Jackson at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW8Q9oPIiEM

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
Calling for you and for me;
See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
Watching for you and for me.  

Refrain:

Come home, come home,
You who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, O sinner, come home!

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?  Refrain

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
Coming for you and for me.  Refrain

O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.  Refrain

756) Chosen (a)

Birth of the Self-made Man, statue by Bobbie Carlyle

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     Sunday will be Mother’s Day.  Mother’s Day is more of a family observance than a religious event.  Neither Mother’s Day or Father’s Day are listed in the church year calendar.  But maybe they ought to be, because thinking about mothers and fathers can remind us of a truth we often forget.  Thoughts about our parents remind us of our indebtedness to others for so many things– our lives and our looks, for example, and, in a big way, our beliefs and our values.  Just the fact that we have mothers and fathers reminds us of one great truth; and that is that not a one of us is self-made.  Many folks pride themselves on being a ‘self-made’ man or woman.  But there is no such thing.  We were all made not by ourselves, but we were literally made by two other people.

     And, as you know, our parents needed help in making us.  The life we live is a miracle of God.  Therefore, we are indebted not only to our parents, but in an infinitely more profound way, we are indebted to God.  And just as every Mother’s Day and Father’s day remind us of our indebtedness to our parents, every Sunday, every time we go to church, we are reminded of our indebtedness to God.  That is one of the reasons we worship; to remember what God has given us, to remember our debt to God, and to declare our ongoing faith in God.  At the same time, we remember our indebtedness to the whole company of Christians, that ‘communion of saints’ who over the centuries have passed on the faith, down through the generations to us.  We believe in Jesus only because someone told us about Jesus.  It might have been a parent, might have been a friend, or it might even have been a TV preacher.  You believe in Jesus because sometime in your life, someone told you the story of Jesus.

     We are indebted to God, and then to other people, for most of what we have and most of what we are.  We have a great deal of freedom to make all kinds of choices, but all those choices are made within a pretty limited context which we had no chance of choosing.  We were born in a certain century that we did not choose, in a place we did not choose, to two people that we did not choose and had not even met yet; and then we were raised in a certain way before we had anything to say about that.  

     Even as we get older, we don’t so much choose, as we find out what we are good at, that is to say, what talents we were given.  I never consciously chose to be a good student, I just found out very early that learning from books came easy for me.  And my brother did not choose to be an average student instead of an honor student.  He just found out very early in life that he was better at fixing things, and then stayed home to fix trucks and buses in our parents’ business instead of going on to college.  From very early on, we knew we had been given different abilities and interests– not chosen, but given.

     For all of our endless discussions and debates in this country about our rights and our choices, we kid ourselves if we think we have very much choice at all.  The freedoms we have are very important, but much of who are and what we are was set in cement before we even were aware we were here.  It is for us to accept that fact, and then use the relatively few choices we do have to make the best of what we’ve been given.

     To be sure, the Bible is filled with commands, telling us to make the right choices; true and loving and obedient choices.  But all those commands are given in the context of a far greater truth found in John 15:16 where Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.”  There you have it.  You believe in Jesus not because you managed to muster up enough faith to believe in him.  Rather, says Jesus, you believe in him and you are God’s child, not because you chose him, but because he chose you. (continued…)

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John 15:16a  —  (Jesus said), “ You did not choose me, but I chose you…”

Psalm 139:13-14a  —  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Job 1:21  —  Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

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Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant.  Cause me to hear, cause me to know, teach me to do, and lead me.

–Henry Martyn, Missionary to India and Persia  (1781-1812)

755) Abide in Me (part three of three)

     (…continued)  Our greatest fear is the fear of death, because death means the end of all our earthly connections.  Only when all those other connections are already severed by ill health or loneliness does death begin to look like a friend.  But as long as we are still in relationships that give life meaning and joy, as long as we are connected to those people and things that make life worthwhile, we don’t want to die and lose those connections.

     The truth of this is made clear in a country western song by Tim McGraw called Live Like You Were Dying.  The singer is talking to an old friend and the friend says to him:  “I was in my early 40’s, with a lot of time before me, when a moment came that stopped me on a dime; and I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays, talking about the options and talking about sweet time…”  McGraw then asks his friend, “When it sank in that this might be the end, man, what do you do when you get that kind of news?”  And the friend said, “Well, I went sky diving, and I went Rocky Mountain climbing,” and some other fun things.  But then he got to what was most important, saying:

I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.  I finally was the husband that most of the time I wasn’t, and I became a friend a friend would like to have, and all of a sudden, goin’ fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition, and I went three times that year I lost my dad.  Well, I finally read the Good Book, and I took a good long hard look, at what I’d do if I could do it all again; And he said, someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.

     That is a great song.  He is talking about how the prospect of death, and the loss of all he was connected to, made him cherish all those connections.  Most of the song speaks of relationships; marriage, friendship, love, forgiveness, and faith.

     There is a warning in the words of Jesus in John 15:6 when he says, “If anyone does not abide in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire, and burned.”  When we hear those words we might think of hell, but it doesn’t have to mean that.  It might just pointing out the fact that only in Christ is there any hope of an ongoing enjoyment of the blessings of our relationships.  Only in Christ do we have a hope of hanging on to anything after death.  Tim McGraw’s song speaks of the fear of losing everything in death, the fear of losing all those connections and relationships.  Fire destroys everything in its path, and so does death.  But Jesus speaks of a connection that continues even beyond death.  To remain in him is to have an eternal abiding place.  Jesus came to show us the way to receive this eternal promise be ready for that eternal home.  Abide in him.

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Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw, #1 Country song of 2004

Watch the official video at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9TShlMkQnc

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He said “I was in my early forties
With a lot of life before me
When a moment came that stopped me on a dime

I spent most of the next days, looking at the x-rays
Talking ’bout the options and talking ’bout sweet time”

I asked him when it sank in
That this might really be the real end
“How’s it hit ‘cha when you get that kind of news?
Man, what’d ya do?”
And he said

“I went skydiving
I went rocky mountain climbing
I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin'”

And he said, “Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin'”

He said, “I was finally the husband
That most the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend, a friend would like to have

And all of a sudden goin’ fishin’
Wasn’t such an imposition
And I went three times that year I lost my dad
Well I, I finally read the good book
And I took a good long hard look
At what I’d do if I could do it all again”

Refrain…

And he said, Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’

Like tomorrow was a gift
And ya got eternity to think about what to do with it
What did you do with it?
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?

Refrain…

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WHERE THE BIBLE ADVISES YOU TO ‘LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING’

James 4:13-15:  

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

And Romans 14:7-8:

For none of us lives for ourselves alone,and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

And Philippians 1:21:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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Teach us to number our days aright, O Lord, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12

754) Abide in Me (part two of three)

John 15:1-8  —  (Jesus said), “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower.  He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit.  Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.  You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

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     (…continued)  These words of Jesus are all about being connected.  Jesus uses the image of branches being connected to a vine.  He describes himself as the vine, and we are the branches that are connected to him.  There is both a promise and a command in this image.

     The promise is this:  God has made you, he has given you your life, he sent Jesus to save you from your sins, and he has promised you eternal life in his heavenly home.  God has, in Christ Jesus, connected your life to his.

     “Abide in me,” Jesus says.  The word ‘abide’ appears eight times in these eight verses.  The word abide, or, ‘remain’ in some translations, implies that we are already there, already with God.  “You are my friends,” Jesus will say a few verses later (v. 14).  Jesus is not inviting us to take hold of something, he is not telling us to work toward a distant goal, he is not holding out something for us to try to attain.  He is describing a relationship already given.  “Abide in me,” he said, asking you to remain in the relationship he made with you.

     In C. S. Lewis’s image of hell, everyone is free– and they use that freedom to get away from everyone else.  Their suffering is in the loneliness that they have freely chosen.  Jesus one time said, “You did not choose me; I chose you.”  What we need most in life are connections, these relationships, and Jesus here says that the most important connection is already taken care of; we are connected to God— if we will allow it to continue.

     So now, says Jesus, “abide in me.”  That is a promise, and it is also a command.  Abide.  Remain.  Stick around.  Keep in touch.  Do not betray, desert, abandon, forsake, ignore or trifle with the God who has given this relationship to you.  Stay connected to Jesus.

     How do we do that?  Well, in all the old usual ways– by prayer and Bible reading and worship.  Do you have any other better ideas?  The weekly Sunday morning gathering isn’t just something to do if there is nothing else going on.  It is by this connection with God that we have received life itself and the promise of eternal life.  “Abide in me,” says Jesus.  Weekly worship is the way people have been ‘abiding in Jesus’ throughout the ages.  Even Jesus went to worship, ‘as was his custom’ (Luke 4:16).  This is how we keep alive the relationship that God gives us and stay connected, until the time comes when we are with Jesus in person.

     Do not severe that connection, Jesus commands,  because “If you do not abide in me, you will wither” (verse six).  Branches that are connected can receive nourishment and life, and will thrive.  But the branch that is cut off receives no nourishment, and cannot survive.  

     Abide in Jesus.  As Paul says in Colossians 2:6-7, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught.”  (continued…)

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 A Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253):

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits which you have given us,
for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.
Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know you more clearly,
love you more dearly,
and follow you more nearly,
day by day.

753) Abide in Me (part one of three)

     When I was in high school I enjoyed reading science fiction.  There is one story I read way back then that I still remember, so strong was the image left in my mind.  I have forgotten the details, but it was about a scientist who found a way to transfer everything in his brain onto a computer.  His body was old and soon died, but this computer kept his mind alive beyond the death of his body.  The man had become a machine, with all the incredible capabilities of a computer.  But machine was like a human, with the scientist’s personality, emotions, hopes, dreams, and ability to communicate with others– all of that, but no body.  By adding a way to collect the necessary power from the sun, or even the stars, the scientist had found a way to keep his mind alive forever.

     This ‘human-computer’ was selected for a mission into outer space.  The intent was for the ‘scientist’ to learn all he could while in the earth’s orbit, and then come back to earth with the results.  However, something went terribly wrong, the space ship got out of its orbit, and went shooting off into the far reaches of the universe with no chance of ever returning.  Before long it was out of radio contact.  The image one was left with at the end of the story is the horror of this scientist who realizes that he will never again be in contact with anyone, and he is doomed to live that way forever.  He did not need to fear death.  But without any hope of any connection to anyone ever again, death would have been a blessing.  He could not return to earth, and he would never die.  He was doomed to eternal loneliness.  It was that terrible image that I can still remember.

     C. S. Lewis once wrote a little novel in which he describes what heaven and hell might be like (The Great Divorce, 1945).  Heaven is, of course, wonderful.  It is beautiful, everyone gets along, the Lord God is there with his magnificent presence, and there is no death or illness or time pressure.  All is wonderful, as is promised in the Bible.

     Lewis’s image of hell is thought provoking.  First of all, just like in heaven, people will live forever.  Second, there are no flames in Lewis’ imagined hell.  And third, you can have anything you want in hell, and you can go wherever you want.  All you have to do is wish for something, and it happens.  Well, so far, so good!  But the third part of the description is the clinker.  There is no God in hell, so there is no goodness.  Everyone is completely wicked and selfish, and so no one can get along with anyone else.  They are all free to do what they want and go where they want, but they use that freedom to keep moving farther and farther apart, to get away from everyone else.  They all end up angry and alone and lonely, but they can’t stand to be around each other.  Without any desire to change, they become more and more miserable.  The description of this self-inflicted hell is quite depressing.  Even though one can live forever and do whatever you want, the reader comes to see how without good desires, hell would be a terrible place, even without the flames.

     In both stories, the terrifying prospect is that of life without any connections, without any relationships.  Both stories, though merely imaginative fictions, call to mind a very real problem.  Many people are incredibly lonely, and we all, if we live long enough, face that possibility.  In rural areas, there are for many people all kinds of connections– large extended families with lots of relationships, and a connection to the land, community, and churches that might go back five or six generations.  But in most cities you will find thousands of people who, though surrounded by thousands of other people, are completely alone, with no connections to anyone.  Or, one could go into any care center, even in rural communities, and there find people who may have at one time had many connections, but are now, becoming increasingly disconnected.  Friends and immediate family members are all dead, living relatives all live a great distance away (or never visit), and the declining ability to hear, or see, or think clearly make even worse the problem of being disconnected from other people.

     Connections to family, neighbors, and friends bring life’s greatest blessings.  These relationships can also bring life’s greatest problems; but the deepest despair is to be all alone.  That is why the images in the stories I began with are so powerful.  (continued…)

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James 4:1-…7a  —  What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…  Submit yourselves, then, to God.

Psalm 88:18  —  You have taken from me friend and neighbor– darkness is my closest friend.

Romans 14:7-8  —   For none of us lives for ourselves alone,and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

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Turn to me and be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am lonely and afflicted.  Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.  

–Psalm 25:15-16

752) What is the Purpose of the Church?

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By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

     This is the whole of Christianity.  There is nothing else.  It is so easy to get muddled about that.  It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects– education, building, missions, holding services.  Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects– military, political, economic, and what not.  But in a way things are much simpler than that.  The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life.  A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden– that is what the State is there for.  And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.  In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw people into Christ...  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.  God became Man for no other purpose.  It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.

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John 12:32  —  (Jesus said), “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

Colossians 1:16-20…28  —  For in Christ all things were created:  things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross…  He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

John 3:16-17  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

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 Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

–William Laud  (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

751) Balance and Moderation

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Enough is as good as a feast.  –English Proverb

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Even nectar is poison if taken to excess.  –Hindu Proverb

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Only when we know what to say yes to can we say no everything else.

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For character and success, two things, contradictory as they may seem, must go together… humble dependence on God and manly reliance on self.  –William Wordsworth

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Spontaneity is good.  Routine is good.  Conflicting goodness?  No.  Balance is life. –Terri Guillemets

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Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

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Life is a balance between what we can control and what we can’t.  You must learn to live comfortably between effort and surrender.

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Life is about balance.  Be kind, but don’t let people abuse you.  Trust, but don’t be deceived.  Be content, but never stop improving yourself.

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Philippians 4:11b  —   I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Matthew 6:33-34  —  (Jesus said), “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.  Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8  —  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing…

Philippians 4:5  —   Let your moderation be known unto all men.  The Lord is at hand. (KJV)

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Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

–Proverbs 30:7-9