831) The Robe (c)

     (…continued)  People found in Jesus everything they needed– not only healing for their body, but also rest for their souls, and guidance for their daily lives.  In another part of The Robe there is a conversation between Marcellus and Justus.  Justus was a man who had followed Jesus when he was here, and was now Marcellus’s guide through the Galilean countryside.  Marcellus once asked Justus, “You say you believe that Jesus rose from the dead; but where do you think He is now?”

     “I don’t know, my friend,” Justus said, “I only know that he is alive, and I am always expecting to see him.  Sometimes I feel aware of his presence, as if he is close by.”  Justus then added, “And that keeps you honest, you know; you have no temptation to cheat anyone, or lie to anyone, or hurt anyone, when, for all you know, Jesus is standing right beside you.”

     Marcellus then said, “I am afraid I would feel very uncomfortable thinking I was always being watched by some invisible presence.”

     “Oh no, it is not a bad thing,” said Justus, “not if that presence helps you defend yourself against yourself.  It is a great satisfaction to have someone standing by to keep you at your best.”

     In Matthew 16:15 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  It is that very question that Demetrius and Marcellus were struggling with throughout Lloyd Douglas’s wonderful novel.  And the rest of the New Testament tells us that is the most important question in all of life.

     “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked.  Peter, always the first to speak and usually wrong, got it right that time:  “You are the Christ,” he said, “the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus praised him for that statement of faith, even saying that his church would be built on the rock solid foundation of that faith. 

     Jesus asks every person who ever lived that same question: “WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?”

     The rest of the New Testament links all of God’s blessings, both now and forever, to our answer to that question.  Faith in Jesus is what opens the door to our relationship with God and to all he has to offer.  Verse after verse in the New Testament makes this abundantly clear.  John 3:16 is one of the most familiar and best loved verses and for very good reason.  It states the Gospel simply and clearly and it says that it all depends on what we say about Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him shall have eternal life.”  In Jesus final instructions to his disciples in Mark 16, he commands them to preach the Gospel to all nations, for he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.”  In Romans 10:9 Paul describes bottom line faith with these words:  “If you believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confess with your lips that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  In John 11, Jesus said to Martha who was grieving the loss of her dead brother, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”  In Acts 4:12 Peter proclaims to the crowd, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  Jesus said of himself in John 14:6,”I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”

     These are just a few of many verses that all say the same thing.  Our answer to Jesus question in Matthew 16:15 is the most important thing in life.  One’s life may be long or short, blessed with good health or troubled by ill health, full of fun and good fortune or full or sorrow and woe, for the most part wonderful or for the most part miserable.  But no matter what one’s life is like or how it is lived, when life ends, all that matters then is how you answered Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”  It takes faith to believe that this man who lived so long ago is also God, and is still living and seeing us and hearing us right now.  But the Bible says it is by faith that we live, both now and forever.  Therefore we, like Peter, will want to always say in response to Jesus’ question, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

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Matthew 16:13-19  —  Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.  And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer

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830) The Robe (b)

     (…continued)  The novel The Robe gives us a wonderful way to approach these old stories.  Lloyd Douglas was not the first one to come up with the idea, and most preachers have done this in one form or another.  But he does this really well, and as he tells the story, he teaches us how to think more deeply about who Jesus was.  Whenever one reads any of these stories one is imagining what it would it be like if Jesus came here, and visited our town, our congregation, or our family.

     Think, for just one example, about all the ailments, all the illnesses, and all the aches and pains in you and the people you know.  And then think about someone coming to town who could heal anything and everything, immediately, with no tests, no appointments, no prescriptions, no follow-up visits, no insurance paperwork, and all, at no cost.  All one would have to do is to touch his robe.  Would you miss that?  Is there anyone you would want to tell about that?  Wouldn’t you drop everything to go and find out about that, and then try to get in on it, even to the point of forgetting to eat, as we are told happened to the people in some stories.  And even then Jesus took care of things by miraculously feeding 5,000 people out of one little boy’s lunch.  Can you imagine what all this would be like?

     Today’s celebrities often have a difficult time going anywhere without being bothered by people recognizing them and crowding around them.  They receive all that attention and all they can do is sing a song or catch a football or repeat a few lines from a script for the camera.  Think of the attention that someone would get if they could heal the sick and raise the dead.  Sometimes, Jesus has to literally hide from the crowds in order to get some rest and spend some time in prayer.  Even then, it wouldn’t long and the people find him, and Jesus would again be going out to serve them.  In Matthew chapter nine, it says Jesus had compassion on the crowds, because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

     Marcellus and Demetrius are portrayed in the book as intelligent, privileged, and powerful, especially when compared to the poor and persecuted Christians they meet along the way.  But the two men, unbelievers that they are, are indeed just what Jesus described, “like sheep without a shepherd.”  The book, though fictional, describes in a way that is historically accurate, the emptiness and decadence of the Roman empire in the first century; and it shows the powerful attraction that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, had upon those who were lost and adrift in that society.

     One time the slave Demetrius was trying to describe to a friend the strange comfort that he gets from touching the robe, and, as he believes, from the little bit he knows about Jesus.  He says (paraphrased), “When I was a little boy and would fall down and hurt myself, I would run into the house and find my mother.  She would not bother to ask me what I had been doing to bruise myself in that way, or scold me for not being more careful.  She would just take me in her arms and hold me until I was through with my weeping.  Perhaps my skinned knee still hurt, but I could bear it now.  You see, my mother was always there for me, no matter how I came upon my mishaps.”  He paused, and then Demetrius went on to say, “Slaves get very lonely, my friend.  Often I have thought there should be for grown up people some place where they can go when badly hurt, and find that same kind of assurance that a little child experiences in his mother’s arms.  I seem to get that from this robe, and therefore somehow, I think, from the man who wore it.” (continued…)

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Matthew 11:28  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:4-5  —  Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Matthew 9:35-36  —  Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Acts 10:38  “…Jesus went around doing good…”

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

–Augustine

829) The Robe (a)

     Have you heard of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts School of Wizardry?  How about Captain Kirk and the star ship Enterprise?  How about Charlie Brown or Bart Simpson?  Two more.  Have you heard about the Roman soldier Marcellus Gallio and his Greek slave Demetrius?  Those last two are perhaps not as familiar as the first few.  But in the 1940’s and 50’s those names were as familiar as the name Harry Potter is now.  All of the names I have mentioned are fictional characters from popular culture– books, movies, and/or TV shows.  Sixty-five years ago Marcellus Gallio and Demetrius were among the most popular.

     They are the two main characters in the novel The Robe.  That title might be familiar some older folks.  The Robe was written by Lloyd C. Douglas, a minister for 25 years, and then an author for the rest of his life.  He wrote many best-selling books and this one was the biggest of them all.  It was the best-selling book in America for almost an entire year in 1942, and it remained on the best-seller list for much of the next 10 years.  In 1953 it was made into a blockbuster, Academy Award winning movie starring Richard Burton.  Marcellus and Demetrius were the Harry Potter and Ron Weasley of the 1940’s and early 50’s.

     The Robe is primarily a novel about the ministry of Jesus, but the story of Jesus is told indirectly.  The crucifixion of Jesus takes place near the beginning of the novel, and Jesus himself appears only briefly, saying nothing in those brief appearances.  He is only quoted and described by others.  In the novel Marcellus Gallio is the commander of the Roman troops that crucified Jesus.  When the soldiers gambled for the robe of Jesus, Marcellus won.  He and his slave Demetruis were profoundly moved by the little bit they did see of the man Jesus.  They were impressed by his strength and courage, and Marcellus felt great remorse over executing a man known to be innocent.

     The men soon find out that there was a certain power in the dead man’s robe that was in their possession.  When they, and some others, touch the robe, they are strangely comforted, strengthened, and healed of all mental anxiety.  Others, upon grabbing the robe in anger or disdain or ridicule, find they do not have the strength to even hang on to it, and it drops out of their hands.  

     In the beginning, neither Demetrius or Marcellus had any belief in any kind of religion.  But they are open to faith, and the robe prompts them to want to find out more about Jesus.  In the rest of the novel they try to learn all they can about Jesus, making use of every opportunity to seek out anyone who ever knew or even saw Jesus.  Almost all of the Gospel stories are included in the novel; but in a most interesting way, the stories are told through the eyes of the common people in the countryside who experienced first-hand the presence of Jesus.  It is a brilliant and powerful re-telling of the story, making all the old familiar stories come alive in a fresh and creative way, along with weaving in a pretty good story of its own.

     Even though it is a terrific novel, some readers might be put off by the ‘magical robe’ business.  To many, it may sound more like Harry Potter than the New Testament.  But actually, even that part is based on the Gospels.  For example, Mark 6:56 says:

Wherever Jesus went– into villages, towns, or in the countryside– they brought their sick.  They begged Jesus to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

     A similar account is in Luke chapter eight.  There the story is told of a lady who was healed by Jesus after merely reaching out from the crowd and touching his robe. “Who touched me?,” Jesus asked, “for I felt power go out from me.”

     Marcellus and Demetrius, unbelievers that they are, at first have a psychological explanation for what seems to them to be the magical power of the robe to sooth them.  But as they meet more and more people who had seen Jesus and his many miracles, it becomes ever more difficult for them to maintain their skepticism.  Thus, the novel also becomes a story of struggling toward faith, and then conversion.  It is in this that the book is at its very best.  The two men travel around Israel in the years right after the three year ministry of Jesus, walking those same paths and visiting the same villages that Jesus visited.  They met Nathaniel who had been in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm.  They met the father of the bride at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine.  They met some who helped hand out food when the 5,000 were fed.  And they met many who were healed by his touch and blessed by his words.  All told of the wonder and delight of meeting Jesus, and how they no longer feared anything, not even death.  Again and again readers find themselves saying, “Yes, it must have been something like that; it must have been an amazing and wonderful time.”  (continued…)

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Mark 6:53-56  —  Wherever Jesus went— into villages, towns or countryside— they placed the sick in the marketplaces.  They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Luke 8:43-48  —  A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.  “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.  When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”  But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”  Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet.  In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.  Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace.”

John 19:23-24  —  When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining.  This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another.  “Let’s decide by lot who will get it…”  So this is what the soldiers did.

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Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed;
    save me and I will be saved,
    for you are the one I praise.

–Jeremiah 7:14

828) No Room in the Inn

From A Sermon for Christmas Day, Luke 2:1-14; by Martin Luther (1483-1546), on Luke 2:1-14

     See to it that you do not find pleasure in Christmas only as a story, for that is only transient; neither regard it only as an example, for it is of no value without faith; but see to it that you make this birth your own, and that Christ be born in you.  This is our foundation and inheritance, upon which faith and good works must be built.

     If Christ has now thus become your own, it follows that you will do good works by doing to your neighbor as Christ has done to you.

     Therefore, you have no other commandment to serve Christ other than to direct your works to benefit to your neighbor, just as the works of Christ are of benefit to you.  For this reason Jesus said, “This is my commandment that you love one another; even as I have loved you.”  He loved us and did every thing for our benefit, in order that we may do the same– not to him, for he needs it not,– but to our neighbor.  As Christ helps us so we in return help our neighbor, and all have enough.  Thus, if you see your neighbor going astray, sinning, or suffering in body or soul, you are to help him in every way in your power, and if you can do no more, help him with words of comfort and with prayer.  Thus has Christ done for you and given you an example for you to follow.

     Now let every one examine himself in the light of the Gospel and see how far he is from Christ and the character of his love.  There are many who are filled with dreamy devotion, and when they hear of such poverty of Christ, they are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem, denouncing their blindness and ingratitude.  They think that if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service, they would have found a room for them to stay, and they would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably.  But do they look around to see how many of their own fellowmen need their help?  Or do they let them go on in their misery unaided?  Who is there upon earth that has no poor, miserable, sick, erring ones, or sinful people around him?  Why does he not exercise his love to those?  Why does he not do for them as Christ has done for him?  

     It is altogether false to think that you would have done so much for Christ then, if you do nothing for those needy ones now.  Had you been at Bethlehem you would have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since it is now made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him.  Christ has said that he is in our neighbor.  Serve him in your neighbor as you would if he were in the manger.

There Was No Room For Them In the Inn, by Eugene Higgins  (1874-1958)

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Luke 2:7b  —  There was no room for them in the inn.

John 13:34  —  (Jesus said), “This is my commandment that you love one another; even as I have loved you.”

Matthew 25:40  —  (Jesus said), “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” 

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Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the world.  Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.  Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978  (#141)

827) Prayers of Repentance

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

–Thomas Wilson (d. 1775)

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O Merciful God, full of compassion, long-suffering, and of great pity, who by thy mercy sparest us when we deserve punishment; make me earnestly repent, and be heartily sorry for all my sins.  Make the remembrance so burdensome and painful, that I may flee to Thee with a troubled spirit and a contrite heart.  O merciful Lord, comfort and relieve me; cast me not out of thy presence, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.  Give me in this world knowledge of thy truth, and confidence in thy mercy; and in the world to come life everlasting, for the sake of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  (adapted)

Almighty and merciful Father, whose clemency I now presume to implore, after a long life of carelessness and wickedness, have mercy upon me.  I have committed many trespasses; I have neglected many duties.  I have done what thou hast forbidden, and left undone what Thou hast commanded.  Forgive, merciful Lord, my sins, negligences, and ignorances, and enable me, by the Holy Spirit, to amend my life according to thy Holy Word, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

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I am heartily sorry, and beg pardon for my sins; especially for my little respect and for wandering in my thoughts when in your presence.  Amen.

–Lady Lucy Herbert (1669-1744)

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O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it so that you may enter in.  It is in ruins, O Lord, repair it!  I know and I confess that it is displeasing in your sight.  But who shall cleanse it, or to whom shall I cry but unto you?  Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare me.  Amen.

–St. Augustine

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Dig out of us, O Lord, the venomous roots of covetousness; or else so repress them with your grace, that we may be contented with your provision of necessaries, and not labor, as we do, with all toil, sleight, guile, wrong, and oppression, to pamper ourselves with vain superfluities.  Amen.

— Edmund Grindal (1519-1583), Bishop of London

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Almighty God, give us a measure of true religion and thereby set us free from vain and disappointing hopes, from lawless and excessive appetites, from frothy and empty joys, from anxious, self-devouring cares, from a dull and black melancholy, from an eating envy and swelling pride, and from rigid sourness and severity of spirit, so that we may possess that peace which passeth all understanding, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Benjamin Whichcote (1609-1683), English philosopher

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Almighty God, since our minds have so many hidden recesses that nothing is more difficult than thoroughly to purge them from all pretense and lying, grant that we may honestly examine ourselves.  May we truly acknowledge our hidden faults and put them far away from us.  May we offer you pure worship, and conduct ourselves in the world with a pure conscience.  May each of us be so occupied in our duties as to seek our neighbor’s advantage as well as our own.  And at last, may we be made partakers of that true glory which you have prepared for us in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Almighty God, since you delay with so much forbearance the punishments which we have deserved and daily draw on ourselves, grant that we may not indulge ourselves but carefully consider how often and in how many different ways we have provoked your wrath against us.  May we learn humbly to present ourselves to you for pardon, and with true repentance, implore your mercy.  Let our condition be ever blessed, not by flattering ourselves in our apathy, but by finding you to be our kind and bountiful Father, reconciled to us in your only-begotten Son.  Amen.

–John Calvin (1509-1564)

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Most great and mighty God, you are the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator and Preserver of all things.  You dwell in that light which no mortal eye can approach, and yet you do not disdain to behold our darkened souls.  Look down on us your unworthy creatures.  We humbly thank you for your daily care of us.  We beg your pardon for whatsoever you have seen amiss in us this day, in our thoughts, words, or actions.  Strengthen us in every good purpose and resolution.  Reform whatsoever you see amiss in the temper and disposition of our minds or in any of the habits of our lives; that we may love you more and serve you better, and do your will with greater care and diligence than we have yet done.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

–Warren Hastings (1732-1818) English colonial administrator

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Matthew 4:17  —  From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

II Corinthians 7:10-11  —  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.

Acts 3:19  —  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Psalm 51:1…10  —  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

826) Wisdom from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Samuel Johnson was a British author, linguist, and lexicographer.  He produced the first major dictionary of the English language.  He is regarded by many as the greatest man of letters in English history.

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A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he know the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain.

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Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.

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The fountain of contentment must spring up in the mind, and he who hath so little knowledge of human nature as to seek happiness by changing anything but his own disposition, will waste his life in fruitless efforts and multiply the grief he proposes to remove.

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God Himself does not propose to judge a man until his life is over.  Why should you and I?

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He who praises everybody praises nobody.

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The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.

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It is better to suffer wrong than to do it, and happier to be sometimes cheated than to never trust.

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You raise your voice when you should reinforce your argument.

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He who waits to do a great deal of good at once will never do anything.

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That we must all die, we always knew; I wish I had remembered it sooner.

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Boswell:  “There are, I am afraid, many people who have no religion at all.”

Seward:  “And sensible people, too.”

Johnson:  “Why, Sir, not sensible in that respect.  There must be either a natural or moral stupidity, if one lives in a total neglect of so very important a concern.”

Life of Johnson by James Boswell

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The great task of him who conducts his life by the precepts of religion is to make the future predominate over the present.

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We shall all by degrees certainly be old; and therefore we ought to inquire what provision can be made against that time of distress? what happiness can be stored up against the winter of life? and how we may pass our latter years with serenity and cheerfulness?…  Faith is the only proper and adequate relief of decaying man.  He that grows old without religious hopes, as he declines into imbecility, and feels pains and sorrows incessantly crowding upon him, falls into a gulf of bottomless misery, in which every reflection must plunge him deeper.

Rambler #69 (November 13, 1750)

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It may be observed in general that the future is purchased by the present.  It is not possible to secure distant or permanent happiness but by the forbearance of some immediate gratification.  This is so evidently true with regard to the whole of our existence that all precepts of theology have no other tendency than to enforce a life of faith; a life regulated not by our senses but by our belief; a life in which pleasures are to be refused for fear of invisible punishments, and calamities are to be  endured in hope of rewards that shall be obtained in another state.

Rambler #178 (November 30, 1751)

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We entangle ourselves in business and immerse ourselves in luxury, until the darkness of old age begins to invade us, and disease and anxiety obstruct our way.  We then look back upon our lives with horror, with sorrow, with repentance; and wish that we had not forsaken the ways of virtue…  Happy are they who shall learn not to despair, but shall remember, that though the day is past, and their strength is wasted, there yet remains one effort to be made; that reformation is never hopeless, nor sincere endeavors ever unassisted; that the wanderer may at length return after all his errors, and that he who implores strength and courage from above shall find danger and difficulty give way before him.

Rambler #65 (October 30, 1750)

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Matthew 7:1-2a  —  (Jesus said), “Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.”

Psalm 53:1a  —  The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Psalm 10:4  —  In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

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.

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

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O God, Giver and Preserver of all life, by whose power I was created, and by whose providence I am sustained, look down upon me with tenderness and mercy.  Grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed, and that my life may not be preserved only to add wickedness to wickedness.  But may I so repent of my sins, and so order my life to come, that when I shall be called hence, I may die in peace and in thy favor; and be received into thine everlasting kingdom through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thine only Son, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson

825) Quotes by Nick Vujicic

To learn about Nick Vujicic see yesterday’s blog, Emailmeditation #824

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“I never met a bitter person who was thankful; or a thankful person who was bitter.”

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“If I fail, I try again, and again, and again.  If you fail, are you going to try again?  The human spirit can handle much more than we realize.  It matters how you are going to finish.  Are you going to finish strong?”

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“When a lot of BS comes your way, just BS- Be Still… at least for a little while.  Be Strong, Be Sober-minded, and Be Satisfied with what you have.”

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“The greater the struggle, the more glorious the triumph.”

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“Just because I don’t understand God’s plans does not mean that he is not with me…  I encourage you to believe that you may not be able to see a path right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

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“I don’t believe I’m disabled.  Yes, I have no arms and no legs, but big deal.  It doesn’t matter how I look.  It’s who I am and what I do.”

———-

“If you can’t get a miracle, become one.”

———-

“Some injuries heal more quickly if you keep moving.”

———

“Don’t put your life on hold so that you can dwell on the unfairness of past hurts.”

———

I had a wave of faith and peace wash over me after reading John 9, where when speaking of the blind man, Jesus said, “So that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

———-

“My hope is that when people who are in pain see that I have a joyful life, they will think, ‘If Nick, without arms and legs, is thankful, then I will be thankful for today, and I will do my best.'”

———-

“The greatest news I  could ever say it that Jesus is Lord and Savior of my life.  He is my friend.  He is with me wherever I go.  I’m so delighted to continue to grow in my relationship with Jesus.”

———-

“People often ask how I manage to be happy despite having no arms and no legs.  The quick answer is that I have a choice.  I can be angry about not having limbs, or I can be thankful that I have a purpose.  I choose gratitude.”

———-

“The pinnacle of fulfillment for my spirit and soul will be to hear from the Lord Jesus, when I see him face to face, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.'”

———-

Nick and his son.

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John 9:1-3  —  As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi,who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Matthew 25:23a  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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Take My Life and Let it Be, 1874,Frances R. Havergal, (1836-1879)

Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing
always, only, for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

———-

Chris Tomlin’s rendition of Take My Life:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agROj9nTQP4

824) No Arms No Legs No Worries

     Imagine getting through your busy day without arms or legs.  Picture your life without the ability to walk, care for your basic needs, or even embrace those you love.  Meet Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech).  Without any medical explanation or warning, Nick was born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, without arms and legs.  The Vujicic family was destined to cope with both the challenge and blessing of raising a son who refused to allow his physical condition to limit his lifestyle.

     The early days were difficult.  Throughout his childhood, Nick not only dealt with the typical challenges of school and adolescence, but he also struggled with depression and loneliness.  Nick constantly wondered why he was different than all the other kids.  He questioned the purpose of life, or if he even had a purpose.

     According to Nick, the victory over his struggles, as well as his strength and passion for life today, can be credited to his faith in God.  His family, friends and the many people he has encountered along the journey have inspired him to carry on, as well.

     Since his first speaking engagement at age 19, Nick has traveled around the world, sharing his story with millions, sometimes in stadiums filled to capacity, speaking to a range of diverse groups such as students, teachers, young people, business professionals and church congregations of all sizes.  Today this dynamic young evangelist has accomplished more than most people achieve in a lifetime.  He’s an author, musician, actor, and his hobbies include fishing, painting and swimming.  In 2007, Nick made the long journey from Australia to southern California where he is the president of the international non-profit ministry, Life Without Limbs, which was established in 2005.

     Nick says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!”  Nick’s latest foray into radio will expand his platform for inviting men and women all around the world to embrace the liberating hope and message of Jesus Christ.

–From Nick’s website at:  http://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org 

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     MORE ON NICK’S JOURNEY:  At the age of eight, Nick could not see a bright future ahead and went through a depression.  When he was ten years old, he decided to end his life by drowning himself in a bathtub.  After a couple attempts, he realized that he did not want his loved ones to feel the burden and guilt, that would result from his suicide.

     At the age of thirteen he hurt his foot, which he used for many things like typing, writing, and swimming.  That injury made him realize that he need to be more thankful for his abilities and less focused on his disabilities.

     When he was fifteen years old, he sealed his faith on God and from there it has been an amazing journey.  When he was seventeen, a janitor at his high school inspired him to start speaking about his faith and overcoming adversity.

In the following videos Nick tells his amazing story and offers encouragement to others facing difficulties.  I bet you can’t watch just one!:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USUvzKDroqM  (scenes from his life; four minute testimony; 2007)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gc4HGQHgeFE  (from Nick’s inspirational speaking on video; 2010 four minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3QezBvN1BE  (The story of Nick and his wife; 12 minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kxSrPD__BA  (great speech to teens on believing in yourself; ten minutes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM_eHJcdjig  (2012 interview/testimony; eight minutes)

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Nick and his wife Kanael and son Kiyoshi.

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Psalm 46:1  —  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

II Corinthians 12:9  —  And he (the Lord) said unto me, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

I Corinthians 1:27b  —  God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

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Dear God, 

Enlighten what is dark in me,

Strengthen what is weak in me,

Mend what is broken in me,

Bind what is bruised in me,

Heal what is sick in me,

And lastly, revive whatever peace and love has died in me.  Amen.

823) Stuck in the Middle (part two of two)

     (…continued)   The end of the story is what counts most, says Ecclesiastes, and the Bible is big on happy endings.  The Bible is realistic about the suffering in the middle of the story, but teaches us to view the suffering in light of the end.  Sometimes, as in the book of Romans, that whole process is described theologically.  Many other times, as in the story of Elijah and the grieving mother, the process is described by telling stories.  All of these stories are brief in the reading, but long in the living.  Think of the lame man at Bethesda.  He had been praying for help for 38 years before Jesus came and healed him.  It is a wonderful story to read of a miraculous healing and a happy ending.  But that man waited in the ‘middle of the story’ for 38 years.

     Are you in the middle of any trouble or sadness right now?  Satan wants you to believe that you will be stuck there, and that the middle of the story will last forever.  Sometimes it may seem that way; as we say, “some things never change.”  But the Bible keeps opening our eyes to a larger perspective, a perspective that sees even beyond death.  It does so with stories like the lame man at Bethesda, Elijah raising the widow’s son from the dead, and many more.  The stories teach us that even though life is sad and messy in the middle, the end of the story can, by faith, change everything.

     The end of the story is what counts most, says the Bible, and sports will teach you as much.  Imagine that the Minnesota Twins are behind for an entire game, but with two outs in the bottom of the ninth Brian Dozier hits a grand slam home run to win the game.  How will the fans be feeling after the game?  Will everyone be sad because their team was behind for so long?  Of course not.  Rather, the focus will be on the end, the victory; and that victory will be even sweeter because of the earlier struggle and frustration.  The happy ending changes how one views the entire previous struggle.

     The 23rd Psalm says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  The Psalmist says he’s ‘walking through’– he is just passing through the bad times on his way to somewhere else.  He is talking about the middle of the story, and he knows he is on his way to a better ending.  Therefore, the Psalm is able to end with the happier words, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  So as Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”  Or as C. S. Lewis said: “It doesn’t matter how deep the water is beneath you, as long as you keep swimming.”  And God says, if by faith you keep going you will get there, and the end of the story will be good.

     God opens our eyes to this deeper hope and broader perspective which gives us the resources to approach, understand, and deal with all we must suffer in the middle of our stories. We can deal with suffering by looking forward to the end of it, knowing that God will not leave us stuck in the middle, nor will God just allow it all to go down the tubes at the end in death.

     The priest of an inner city congregation could not help but notice the new visitor.  She had come to mass several days in a row, always arriving late and leaving early, and was often crying during the service.  One day, she stayed after to talk to the priest.  She was sobbing, so he began the conversation, asking simply if she was all right.  “Yes,” she said, “I will be okay.  But I wasn’t when I first came here.  I have been going through a very tough time in my life, and all anybody could ever tell me was ‘Cheer up, you’ve got it good; you’ll get over it.’  I knew I had it good, and I knew I should not have been so depressed.  But knowing I should be happy and wasn’t, made my depression all the worse.  I was even thinking about committing suicide. I’ve never gone to church, but I’d heard about how church helps some people, so one day I stopped in.  The first thing I saw was a man on a cross, his body wounded and bloody, his eyes and face full of pain and agony.  I knew enough of the story to know that was Jesus, but it struck me that his pain and suffering was put right out there front and center for all to see.  It occurred to me that here was a place that suffering was not denied or dismissed, but was taken seriously and honored and even blessed.”  She paused.  The priest said nothing, and she continued.  “I also noticed over on the other wall an empty cross.  That reminded me of what I knew about the rest of the story, that Easter part where Jesus rose from the dead.  I think that must mean that the suffering will someday end.  What I am going through now in my life is going to hurt for a while; probably a long while yet.  But that empty cross gives me the hope that the pain will end, and there will be more to my story.  That is what I have been thinking about here, and it’s all I have to hold on to right now.”

     That true story gets to the heart of what I’m trying to say.  Two of Christianity’s basic symbols are the crucifix, a cross with Jesus on it, and, the empty cross.  The crucifix can serve as a symbol of the middle of the story, that painful middle when Jesus was suffering on the cross and the disciples were stuck in pain and grief and confusion and hopelessness.  But the empty cross speaks also of the empty tomb, symbolizing the rest of the story, when the suffering will end and new life will be given.  

     Keep going.

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Ecclesiastes 7:8  —  Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Hebrews 6:11-12  —  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.   We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Revelation 21:5-7  —  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  He said to me:  “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.   Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”

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Help me, Lord my God; save me according to your unfailing love.  –Psalm 109:26

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822) Stuck in the Middle (part one of two)

     Walking by her son’s bedroom, a mother was astonished to see that the room was clean and the bed was made.  She had not seen that for a very long time, so she figured something must be wrong.  Then she saw an envelope, propped up so it could be easily seen, and addressed to “Mom.”  With a good bit of uneasiness, the mother opened and read the letter.  It said:

     Dear Mom, I am very sorry to have to write you this letter.  I won’t be coming home tonight.  I won’t be coming home at all anymore.  I had to elope with my new girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with you and Dad.  You never met her, but I have been finding real love with a girl named Tonya.  She is very nice, but I knew you would not approve of her because of her pierced ears, nose, and tongue, her tattoos, tight motorcycle clothes, and the fact that she is much older than I am.  But it’s not only the love.  Mom, she is pregnant.
     Tonya says we will be very happy.  She knows of a little cabin in a forest in Canada that we can live in with another couple.  They have a stack of firewood for the whole winter, so we are prepared for the future.  We share a dream of having many more children.  Also, Tonya has opened my eyes to the fact that marijuana is not at all harmful.  We’ll be growing it ourselves and trading it with the other people nearby for cocaine and other things that make me feel good.
     In the meantime, we will pray that science will find a cure for AIDS so that Tonya can get better.  She deserves to be well.  Don’t worry Mom, I am 17 and know how to take care of myself.  Someday, I’m sure we will come back to visit so that you can get to know your grandchildren.
Love, Mark
P.S.  Mom, none of the above is true.  I’m over at Tommy’s house.  I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than a bad report card, which you will find in my center desk drawer.  I love you.  Show the report card to Dad, and call me when it’s safe to come home.

     What an abrupt change in perspective comes in the P.S. part of that letter!  Just when your heart is going out in sympathy to that poor mother, you read that ‘none of the above is true,’ and you experience a complete change in emotion.  In a moment, you move from sympathy to the relief that mother was surely feeling.  I remember some unpleasant report card days with my kids, and a letter like that one would certainly serve to set one in a different mood by providing a different perspective.  Instead of wondering what’s the matter with her son and why he can’t do his homework and study for tests, that mother was probably thanking God for her wonderful boy who was just down the street at Tommy’s.  We have all experienced how fast one’s perspective can change.  One’s day to day problems and frustrations can be quickly forgotten by a phone call that there has been an accident or by a doctor’s bad news.

     I Kings 17:17-24 tells a story that also contains such a sudden change in emotion:

Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill.  He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing.  She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God?  Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

“Give me your son,” Elijah replied.  He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.  Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?”  Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived.  Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house.  He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

     This story also describes a mother’s grief over her son.  But in the Bible story the situation is even worse.  The son has not run away, but has died.  And in both stories there is, at the end, a quick change in mood and perspective.  In I Kings 17 God gives the boy’s life back in response to the prayers by Elijah.  This hopeless story of death is turned into a time of great joy, as grief and separation is turned into the happiness of a joyful reunion.

     You can read through these stories quickly, each in less than a minute, and within seconds of hearing about the grief, you read about the happiness.  But in order for the story to have its full impact, you have to slow it down.  You need to not only read the story, but also imagine yourself being there and living it.  You have to feel yourself “stuck in the middle of it”  in order to feel the pain of what was going on there.  The widow in the Elijah story had a sick child.  Many of you know what that is like.  The temperature goes up and will not come down no matter what you do.  The child won’t eat or drink anything and is getting dehydrated.  Eventually, the crying stops, and the child is still, listless, and staring off into space.  Now what?  It is the middle of the night, and you rush to the emergency room.  The doctor does his bit, and then says you just have to wait and see if it works.  More waiting.  Seemingly endless waiting.  Finally, the child looks a little better and the doctor says you can go home.  But in a few hours the temperature is up again.  Back to the hospital, and on and on it goes, and it seems like it will never end.  You might know the feeling.  That’s what is all in the middle of the story of Elijah and the widow’s son.  And the son does not get better, but dies; and then there is the grief and regret and weariness and anger.  All of that is described very briefly in the printed story, but it is all a very big part of the lived story.  We read quickly through to the miraculous and happy ending of the story, but we must not forget the uncertainty and pain in the middle of the story.  

     This is important, because as you know we are not yet at the happy ending of our own story, but in the middle of it, perhaps even feeling like we are “stuck in the middle.”  And that “middle time” can be filled with sorrow and trouble and grief and worry and pain.  (continued…)

Rembrandt’s depiction of Elijah raising the widow’s son

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Lead me on, O Lord, for the night is dark and it is a long way to home.  And when the strife is over and the journey is done, we can rest in the warm glow of eternal life.  Amen.  

–Professor Roy Harrisville in a prayer before class at Luther Seminary