1054) No Bitter Root

From a sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969), former pastor at New York’s Riverside Church:

     How easy it is to grow bitter about life!  Just as on an autumn day walking through a rough country field and coming back covered with nettles, how easy it is to walk through life and accumulate stings!  One knows well that some people here this morning are sorely tempted to bitterness and therefore to mental ill health.

     But as soon as you see the other thing, an unembittered soul– generous, magnanimous, courageous, and full of radiant goodwill– you know that that is healthy-mindedness.

     Consider an illustration.  A century ago a French citizen left to the French Academy a fund which each year furnishes prizes for conspicuous exhibitions of virtue discovered in the French population.  Here is a typical case:  Jeanne Chaix is the eldest of six children.  Her mother is insane and her father is chronically ill.  The family has no more money than the wages Jeanne earns in the factory where she works.  Yet, Jeanne brings up the family and maintains the entire household, which, says the record, “subsists morally, as well as materially, by the sole force of her valiant will.”

     With these few facts, what do you about Jeanne Chaix, standing there to receive her prize from the French Academy?  You know this: she has not grown bitter; life has done hard things to her but she had not been embittered; she is sustained by an undiscourageable goodwill.  She is a healthy-minded girl.

     Bitterness imprisons life; love releases it.  Bitterness paralyzes life; love empowers it.  Bitterness sours life; love sweetens it.  Bitterness sickens life; love heals it.  Bitterness blinds life; love anoints its eyes.

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Life can make you bitter or better.  Choose better.

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Hebrews 12:15  —  See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Job 21:25  —  Others have no happiness at all; they live and die with bitter hearts.

Ephesians 4:31-32  —  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

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PSALM 42:5-6a:

Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me;
  therefore I will remember you, O Lord.

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1053) Take Time for Your Soul

By Alvin Rogness, The Word for Every Day, page 15, Augsburg Publishing House, 1981.

     I hadn’t seen him in two years.  During the years I had lived in this Midwestern city I had often eaten in his cafe.  We became close friends.  Coming as a young immigrant from Greece, he had worked long and hard until his eating place was the finest in town.  Now, at 70, he was beginning to turn things over to his son.  Seated with me at the table, he reflected on how well things had gone for him.  He paused, tears formed in his eyes, and he said, “But, Al, I haven’t taken time for my soul.”

     He was a successful man.  He was reasonably rich.  The community esteemed him.  What else did he need?    .

     Jesus once put it bluntly, “What does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

     It is as if each of us has a bag to fill.  We use our years to fill it with good things– family, friends, money and property, honor, perhaps power.  Then comes death, and we must leave the bags behind.  If we have accumulated our cargo at the expense of our souls, then what?

     The soul itself has needs, quite apart from food, shelter— even honor.   The soul has a life with God.  It feeds on the Word and the sacraments.  It grows through prayer and praise.  It becomes strong as it reaches out to help others.

     It is good for each of us to take stock.  What if we were to die today?  What would we leave behind?  Memories that are cherished by our families and friends, we hope.  Maybe some property or trust funds for our children.  Perhaps the fruits of our labors, whether in business, in the home, in our professions.  But we do leave it all behind!

     Stripped of it all, we go on to live forever with our Lord– or without Him.  And it is his hope that we may have used the swift years on earth to prepare for life on the other side.  If we have let that which is eternal about us wither and die from oversight, neglect, or even repudiation, the loss is enormous.

      This is what my friend meant in his sad remark, “But I haven’t taken time for my soul.”

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Mark 8:36-37  —  (Jesus said), “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Luke 12:16-21  —  (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.’  Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

II Timothy 1:6a  —  I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you…

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Eternal God, I pray that you do not allow me to so undervalue myself as to give away my dear and precious soul for nothing; and all the world is nothing, if the soul must be given for it.  Preserve therefore, my soul, O Lord, because it belongs to Thee, and preserve my body because it belongs to my soul.  Thou alone dost steer my boat through all its voyage, especially when it comes to a narrow current, or to a dangerous fall of waters.  Thou cares for the preservation of my body in all the ways of my life.  In the straits of death, I pray that you enlarge Thy Providence towards me, so that no illness or agony may shake or benumb my soul.  Be with me in all sickness so that, being used by Thy hand, I may be content with any bed of Thy making.  Amen.

–John Donne  (1572-1631)  (adapted)

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The Rich Fool, Eugene Burnand  (1850-1921)

1052) When God Punishes a People

Martin Luther  (1483-1546)

Time magazine cover, March 24, 1967

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     “When God wills to punish a people or a kingdom, he takes away from it the good and godly teachers and preachers, and bereaves it of wise, godly, and honest rulers and counselors, and of brave, upright and experienced soldiers, and of other good people.  Then the common people are secure and merry; they go on in all willfulness, they care no longer for the truth and for the divine doctrine, nay, they despise it, and fall into blindness.  They have no fear or honesty, they give way to all manner of shameful sins, whence arises a wild, dissolute, and devilish kind of living, as we now, alas, see and are too well aware of, and which cannot long endure.  I fear the ax is laid to the root of the tree, soon to cut it down.  May God in his infinite mercy take us graciously away, that we may not be present at such calamities.”

–Martin Luther in Table Talk

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Isaiah 40:15…23-24  —  Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust….  He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.  No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

Psalm 9:15-18  —  The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.  The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.  The wicked go down to the realm of the dead, all the nations that forget God.  But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Psalm 96:13  —  Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

I Timothy 2:1-4  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers,intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Jeremiah 5:30-31  —  (The Lord says), “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:  The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.  But what will you do in the end?”

II Timothy 4:3-4  —  The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

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A BIBLICAL PRAYER FOR THE NATIONS:

Joel 3:12………..Let the nations be awakened!
Isaiah 1:2…………..Let the earth hear the voice of the Lord!
Psalm 9:20…………Judge the nations in Your sight, O Lord, and put them to fear,
Psalm 9:20………….that they might know themselves to be but men.
Romans 8:22……….Father, the whole creation groans and labors
Romans 8:21……….to be delivered from the bondage of corruption,
Romans 8:21……….into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
John 15:26………..Send forth Your Spirit of Truth to bear witness of You,
John 16:8………….and to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment.
Ezekiel 14:6……….Cause them to repent and to turn from their idols.
Numbers 23:24……..O God, cause Your people to rise up.
Jeremiah 49:14……….Send Your ambassadors into all the nations.
Colossians 4:3…………Open to them a door for the Word, to speak of Christ,
Matthew 24:14………..that the gospel of the kingdom may be preached in all the world.
Philippians 2:10………..Let every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord!
Isaiah 43:9………….Father, gather the nations together,
Psalm 22:27…………that they may worship Thee.
Galatians 3:8……………Let all the nations be blessed through Your people.
Isaiah 49:6…………Send forth Your salvation to the ends of the earth.

http://www.prayingscriptures.com

1051) The Black Dot

     One day, a professor entered the classroom and told his students he had a surprise test for them.  They all waited anxiously for the exam to begin.  The professor handed out the exams with the text facing down.  He then asked the students to turn over the papers.  To everyone’s surprise, there were no questions– just a black dot in the center of the sheet of paper.  The professor said, “I want you to write about what you see there.”

     The students, confused, got started on the inexplicable task.

     At the end of the class, the professor took all the papers and started reading each one of them, out loud, in front of all the students.  All of them, with no exception, wrote about the black dot– describing it, explaining its possible purpose, or trying to account for its position in the center of the sheet.  After all had been read, the professor started to explain.

     “I’m not going to grade you on this,” he said, “I just wanted to give you something to think about.  No one wrote about the white part of the paper.  Everyone focused on the black dot.  And the same thing happens in our lives.  Life is like that whole sheet of white paper to observe and enjoy, but we always focus on the dark spots.  

     “Our life is a gift given to us by God, with love and care.  We always have reasons to celebrate, such as the beauty of nature, family and friends around us, the job that provides our livelihood, good food, the miracles we see every day, and so much more.  However, we insist on focusing only on the dark spots– the health issues that bother us, the lack of money, the complicated relationships with others, or the disappointment with a friend.  The dark spots are very small when compared to everything we have in our lives, but they’re the ones that get all our attention.

     “Do not look only at the black dots in your life.  Enjoy each one of your blessings and each moment that God gives you.”

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

Psalm 136:3  —  Give thanks to the Lord of lords.  His love endures forever.

Lamentations 3:22-23  —  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

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A Child’s Evening Prayer

Ere on my bed my limbs I lay
God grant me grace my prayers to say:
O God! preserve my mother dear
In strength and health for many a year;
And, O! preserve my father too,
And may I pay him reverence due;
And may I my best thoughts employ
To be my parents’ hope and joy;
And O! preserve my brothers both
From evil doings and from sloth,
And may we always love each other,
Our friends, our father, and our mother:
And still, O Lord, to me impart
An innocent and grateful heart,
That after my last sleep I may
Awake to thy eternal day!  Amen.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet and philosopher  (1772-1834)

1050) Death Row Conversion

 Posted at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website on Saturday, March 30, 2013, by Shelia M. Poole; with additional notes from and article posted as http://www.cbn.com

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Billy Neal Moore spent 16 years on death row for killing a man. Today, he is an ordained minister who speaks to inmates about an act of forgiveness that saved his life. photo

Billy Neal Moore spent 16 years on death row for killing a man. Today, he is an ordained minister who speaks to inmates about an act of forgiveness that saved his life. photo

Billy Neal Moore spent 16 years on death row for killing a man. Today, he is an ordained minister who speaks to inmates about an act of forgiveness that saved his life.

     William “Billy” Neal Moore stands in the gymnasium of the medium-security Floyd County Prison and meets the eyes of convicted thieves and drug dealers as they come into the room.  Many of the inmates hug Moore as they walk into the gym.  A handful hold back, perhaps thinking any show of emotion is a sign of weakness they can’t afford in prison.  The soft-spoken Moore is there for a three-day revival.  He stands before the prisoners and cites a passage from the Bible:  For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Then he pauses and meets their gaze, looking from one to the other, directly in their eyes.

     “Do you know what forgiveness is?” he asks them.  Most of the men nod in response.  But then Moore hits them with a question that makes many of them shift uncomfortably in their seats:  “What if someone murdered one of your family members?  Could you forgive them?”

     Moore was once on the other side of that question.  He spent 16 1/2 years on death row after he confessed to murdering a man during an armed robbery nearly 40 years ago.  And it wasn’t until the family of his victim forgave him, that he could forgive himself.  It was an act that saved his soul and his life…

     In 1974 Moore was a 22-year-old Army specialist stationed at nearby Fort Gordon.  He and his wife, who lived in Ohio, were having marital trouble, so he had brought his 2-year-old son to live with him.  But he had a problem paying his bills.  He had previously authorized the Army to send his paychecks to his wife, and now it would take 90 days to make the change.  But he did not have 90 days.  He had fallen behind on his rent, was running out of food, and needed money fast.  Billy sought help from various charities and pled with the military to speed up the process of getting his funds to him, but no one could help.

     He heard about a man who carried a lot of cash.  Moore had no criminal record, but late one warm night in April, while he was high on marijuana and Jack Daniels, Moore broke into the home of 77-year-old Fredger Stapleton.  Moore was met with a shotgun blast and he fired back with his .38-caliber revolver, killing Stapleton.  Moore rummaged around the house and found two wallets in a pair of pants under a pillow and stuck them in a pocket.  Then he grabbed both guns and took off.

     When Moore got home, he emptied out the wallets and discovered more than $5,000.  But instead of elation, he was overcome with fear and shame.  He knew the cops would be coming for him, so he called his sister and asked her to come and get his little son.  Then he waited…

     The sheriff and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation arrived the next day, and Moore confessed.  An officer said he would make sure Moore got the death penalty, but Moore said he didn’t care. 

     Those first few hours in jail were desperate ones for Moore.  “My heart was killing me,” he said.  “There was no way I could fix this.  When you take someone’s life, you can’t give it back.  Not only had I killed a man, but I hurt his family.  I destroyed my son’s life and hurt my family.”

     He was so grief-stricken by his actions, he borrowed a razor from a fellow inmate and contemplated slitting his throat.  He wasn’t a religious man, but Moore said he heard a voice that said killing himself would not relieve him of his guilt, shame or pain and would just be taking another life.

     On July 17, 1974, Moore was sentenced to death.  Execution was set for Sept. 13, 1974.

     A cousin in Ohio told Moore he needed to get right with the Lord, but Moore wasn’t hearing it.  But a week before Moore’s date with the electric chair, Pastor Nealon Guthrie paid the prisoner a visit.  When the minister arrived, Moore and some other inmates were playing cards through the bars for nickels, dimes and pennies.

     “My eyes fell on him and I said, ‘My God, that could be my son,’” said Guthrie, who still maintains a fatherly relationship with Moore.  The two men bonded immediately. “I could tell he was very remorseful.  He didn’t try to blame anybody.  He was never resentful.  He just said he was sorry.”

     Guthrie told Moore that although a judge in Georgia had sentenced him to death, there was a “just judge named Jesus Christ” who “died to save people like you.”  He told Moore that somehow God would bring him through this trying time.  Then they prayed together, and before Guthrie left that day, he baptized Moore in a prison bathtub with two trustee inmates as witnesses.

     Moore said he felt a peace that he had never experienced before.  “I was freed me from a lot of the pain I had been carrying for years,” he said.

     Moore’s execution date came and went, and three days later he received a letter from his lawyer.  He had neglected to advise Moore that there is an automatic appeal for death penalty cases.  Moore fired the lawyer and decided to represent himself.

     He requested a copy of the police report and discovered it contained the names and addresses of the victim’s family.  Then he did something that changed the course of his life.  He wrote to Stapleton’s niece, Sara Stapleton Farmer, and apologized for killing her uncle.

     The letter was simple but hard to write.  “I want you to know that I am truly sorry for all the pain and suffering that I have caused each one of you,” Moore wrote.  “And if you can find it in your hearts to forgive me, I really would truly appreciate it.  But if you don’t, I understand because I don’t forgive myself for the terrible suffering I have brought you all.”

     A week later he received a response.  “Dear Billy,’ she wrote, “we are Christians and we forgive you and pray to God for your soul and hope for the best in your life.”  Moore was stunned.

     “This was showing me this is what real Christian people do,” he said. “That really helped me because I’m still hurting and I’m writing to hurting people.  And they’re helping me.”

     Then he began to wonder:  How do you do that?  How do you get to that place of forgiveness?  He wrote back and thus began a letter-writing relationship that lasted for many years.  Stapleton’s family even fed and housed Moore’s family members and legal team when they came to visit him in prison.

     “It took them six years of writing me to get me to the point I could forgive myself,” Moore said…

     People can be cynical about jailhouse conversions, but Moore seemed sincere.  He became an ordained minister through Aenon Bible College.  He led a Bible study group for other inmates.  He prayed with them.  He baptized some.  He became known as a peacemaker, settling disputes between inmates.  Even some of the guards, who used to hassle him, started leaving him alone.

     His death penalty case began to receive national attention as his execution was postponed 13 times over the course of 16 years.  Not only did world famous death penalty opponents including Mother Teresa speak out on Moore’s behalf, but members of Stapleton’s family also begged for clemency.

     Nevertheless, his appeals continued to be denied.  Eventually all of his appeals were exhausted, and his execution was set for Aug. 22, 1990.  But 20 hours before his scheduled execution, Moore’s sentence was commuted to life by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole.

     “This was a heinous crime and we do not excuse the conduct,” said then-parole board chairman Wayne Snow Jr.  “But to say the least, the board was impressed that we had the family of the victim urging clemency. That is not something we often see.”  Moore was released from Reidsville State Prison in 1991.

     “God was with me all the time,” he said.

     The old Billy Moore no longer exists.  The new Billy Moore travels the world telling his story to churches, colleges, prisons and high schools.  He’s spoken to Yale University, Berry College, Cambridge University, and Amnesty International.  He talks about redemption, forgiveness, and faith.

     When Moore speaks to a class, students are spellbound, said Stephen B. Bright, senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights.  “It’s important for students to hear from someone who is actually guilty,” said Bright.  “Billy is a living demonstration that there is such a thing as redemption.  Somebody can be involved in committing a very bad act and spend the rest of his life doing very good things.”

     For Moore it’s payback.  “I think about (Stapleton and his family) all the time,” said Moore.  “That is one of the reasons I do what I do.  It helps to pay back what they gave to me to help keep young people from getting into trouble…”

       When he speaks to inmates, he talks about life on the outside and how it can be different when they’re released.  He feels most alive when talking with people who think they don’t have many options.  “This allows me to teach them what real forgiveness is, what God has done for us and what a family did for me,” Moore said.

     Sara Farmer died last year, but not before she was able to speak one last time with Moore.  Moore told her that the story about her family’s forgiveness was being heard around the world.  “Every place I go, I talk about Sara Farmer and her family and I put out a challenge: ‘Are you open to this type of forgiveness?’”

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“Christ forgave me and the same way and the same power is extended to everyone.  A lot of people think that I’m special and that God’s done something special for me.  But when we look at it, He did something special for all of us when He died on the cross.  As He said, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’”

–Billy Moore

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Romans 7:24-25  —  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I Timothy 1:15-16  —  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

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Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

–Jesus, Luke 11:4

1049) Don’t Miss This Movie

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By Eric Metaxas at: http://www.breakpoint.org  (February 19, 2016)

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     “Ben Hur,” “The Robe,” “The Ten Commandments,” “Quo Vadis?”—who can forget the golden age of biblical films?  But that was the 1950s, and this is 2016.

     Biblically based movies these days often comes across as, well, less than inspired.  Writers and directors sometimes play fast and loose with the source material, leaving out crucial details and inventing some bizarre stuff.  Worse, portrayals of God often come across as flippant or even blasphemous.  And that’s just not something I enjoy watching.

     Well, I want to urge you to give the genre another chance.  Because a film hitting theaters this weekend proves that swords-and-sandals productions based on the Bible can still hold their own against “Ben Hur.”

     “Risen,” directed by Kevin Reynolds and starring Joseph Fiennes, is the story of the manhunt for the corpse of Jesus Christ.  Spoiler alert:  They don’t find it.

     Fiennes plays a Roman tribune named Clavius.  He’s tasked by Pontius Pilate with crucifying the latest batch of Jewish rabble and self-proclaimed messiahs.  The only catch?  One of them really is the Messiah.

     Of course Clavius, a good Roman military man, doesn’t think anything of Jesus.  When the centurion at Golgotha admits, “Surely this Man was the Son of God,” Clavius lets him have it.  Clavius is tough, and he’s immune to Jewish superstition— that is, until Sunday morning.  For Clavius, that’s when all ‘Heaven’ breaks loose.

     The tomb is empty, the guards aren’t talking, and the Disciples of Jesus are spreading the news that He’s come back to life.  The high priest warns Pilate that they’ll have an uprising on their hands if he doesn’t put the resurrection story to rest.  So Pilate sends Clavius on a grisly, CSI-style hunt for the body of Christ.

     That’s when our tribune has an encounter that shakes his pagan worldview to the core.  “I have seen two things which cannot reconcile,” he says.  “A man dead without question, and that same man alive again.”

     Everyone on our BreakPoint team who’s seen the film loves it, not just because it’s a respectful and riveting portrayal of the gospel accounts, but because it shows an unbeliever’s crisis of faith when confronted by the Risen Lord.

     In anticipation of Easter, I cannot think of a better reminder of how Christianity, as Tim Keller puts it, forces us to “doubt our doubts.”  The empty tomb is the most startling fact of history— something two millennia of skeptics have tried to explain away.  But the evidence is just too strong.  And “Risen,” like a good detective novel, follows that evidence where it leads.

     For instance, the Roman officials and Jewish leaders had every motive to produce a body.  Yet they couldn’t.  And Jesus’ Disciples had nothing to gain and everything to lose from lying about the Resurrection.  But their transformation from cowards to spiritual conquerors testifies that they, like Fiennes’ fictional character, saw something— or Someone— who rocked their worlds.

     Joe Fiennes told BreakPoint that he expects this movie to touch audiences in a unique way precisely because it invites them to examine these events through the eyes of a non-believer.

     I think “Risen” has the potential to spark a renaissance of solidly biblical movies.  But more importantly, I think it will challenge audiences to confront, with Clavius, the question that defies doubters to this day:  If Jesus is dead, then where is the body?

     Go see “Risen.”  And take some unbelieving friends with you.

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The Risen official movie site:

http://www.risen-movie.com

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Luke 24:1-6a…9-12  —  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.  In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!…  When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.  It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.  But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.  Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Matthew 28:11-15  —  While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this report gets to the governor,we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed.  And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

I Corinthians 15:3-8a  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also.

II Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

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Thine is the Glory (v. 3):

No more we doubt Thee,
Glorious Prince of life;
Life is naught without Thee;
Aid us in our strife;
Make us more than conquerors,
Through Thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan
To Thy home above.

Thine is the glory,
Risen conquering Son,
Endless is the victory,
Thou o’er death hast won.

–Edmond Budry  (1854-1932); music by George F. Handel  (1685-1759)

Listen at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPjTfw4a2ZE

1048) How Did Dogs Get So Smart?

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A Canine’s Understanding of Physics

By John R. Erickson posted at http://www.worldmag.com February 20, 2016

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     In high school I didn’t do well in math and science.  Part of the reason was that I had an artistic temperament and no aptitude for numbers.  I was also a lazy student, cared little about grades, and rarely cracked a book at home.  In geometry, algebra, and chemistry, I walked the edge.

     At the University of Texas, I pursued a degree in liberal arts.  There, a student could hide from the harsh demands of math and science.  Or so I thought.  In my senior year I had to take a course in physics— the section for poets and dreamers.

     The professor was a serious man of science and would have been happy working in a lab crammed with wires, tubes, flashing monitors, and no human beings.  He could hardly disguise his fury that the dean had dumped this class of ninnies into the middle of his busy career.

     I sat in silence most of the semester but finally worked up the courage to ask one question:  “Sir, if you went to the far end of the universe and stuck your finger through the edge, where would it be?”  His eyes bulged.  He filled his lungs with fresh oxygen and roared, “Science has made enormous progress, precisely because we don’t ask ridiculous questions!”

     I didn’t trouble him with any more liberal arts nonsense.  I did my homework and escaped with a ‘C’ but can’t say I learned much about physics.

     Years later I awoke to the fact that, after six years of college, I remained an ignoramus about science.  I didn’t expect to do the work of engineers but did regret I had squandered opportunities to absorb some of the ideas thrown off by scientific theories— for example, the difference between the universe described by Newtonian physics and the one described by Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and the other pioneers of quantum mechanics.

     For several years I made this the focus of my reading, starting with a layman’s guide to Einstein’s work on relativity.  The footnotes in one book led to others.  I read dozens of books on the new physics, underlined passages, and made notes in the margins.  After finishing a book, I wondered if I understood any of it.

     I drew some comfort from a statement made by a prominent theoretical physicist who said, “We don’t understand it either.”  Apparently, the strange events predicted by quantum mechanics occur at speeds and locations that humans can access only through mathematics or thought experiments.  The world we experience every day is overwhelmingly Newtonian.

     Several weeks ago I was throwing a ball so that our dog could chase it, then bring it back and nag me into throwing it again.  Her name is Dixie.  She is a ranch dog, a blue heeler, a breed that is adapted to working with livestock.  She is also a fanatic about chasing balls.  I have never known a dog that was so obsessed.

     Most of the time, I submit.  I throw balls and kick balls to satisfy her neurotic compulsion.  But one day it occurred to me, in a flash, that this dog was operating with a highly developed understanding of Newtonian physics.

     Example 1.  Dixie has several toys in her inventory:  a tennis ball, a ball made of hard rubber, a ball made of soft rubber, a rubber bone, and, in an emergency, a stick.  When I throw one of these objects, it follows an arc back to the earth, but on hitting the ground, each responds in its own unique manner.  The hard rubber ball is made of a material that causes it to bounce higher than a tennis ball.  The soft rubber ball gives a modest bounce, and the stick and rubber bone don’t bounce at all.

     As I recall from my physics class, the height of the bounce is an expression of “collision phenomenon,” and is determined by gravity, velocity, the shape of the object, and the density of the material it’s made of.  An engineer with a laptop can enter numbers into an equation that will predict the height of the first, second, and third bounces.

     Dixie does it without equations or a laptop.  She might miscalculate on the first bounce, but after that, she’s got it down.

     Example 2.  My writing office has a screened porch, and during a writing session of four hours, I will walk out on the porch to stretch my legs.  If Dixie is with me, she always has a toy.  She drops it at my feet, locks me in her gaze, and waits for me to give it a kick.  In the small area of the porch, a ball will make contact with a wooden wall, bounce, hit another wall, and bounce again.  The composition of the ball either amplifies or diminishes the bounce.

     This dog is a genius at calculating a collision phenomenon in a closed area, making adjustments for each of the balls in her inventory.  In a split second, she predicts the ball’s path and snaps it out of the air.

     Example 3.  When I loft a high fly ball and send Dixie on a chase, the ball sometimes eludes her and rolls to a stop in weeds.  She won’t rest until she finds it.  It took me a while to see the significance of this.  She never assumes that the ball melted into the earth, went into orbit, was stolen by a troll, or disappeared into another dimension of time and space.

     During the Middle Ages, a human being who lost a ball might have explained it as the work of elves, the devil, or bad fairies.  Dixie is utterly convinced that if the ball rolled into a patch of weeds, it will remain there until she finds it.  That is the outcome predicted by Newtonian mechanics.  She is hard-wired into that view of the universe, and she will find the ball, even if it takes her an hour of sniffing…

     How does a dog acquire an understanding of physics?

     Did dogs have knowledge of Newtonian mechanics before Newton?  Where did it come from?

     How does a dog make those dozens of calculations about a collision phenomenon, in an instant, then make the calculations for leaping, opening and positioning its mouth, and snagging the ball out of the air?

     And most vexing, if Dixie mastered these disciplines without attending classes or reading a stack of books, how can I defend the position that I’m smarter than my dog? Somehow, that’s important.

     My old physics professor would have dismissed these questions as ridiculous, but I suspect that Sir Isaac Newton would have been amused.  He might have said, “I refer you to Genesis 1:1.  It’s only one sentence, but it explains a lot of things.

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Genesis 1:1  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Psalm 139:14  —  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 104:24  —  How many are your works, Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

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He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all.

–Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798)

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All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colours,
He made their tiny wings.

All things bright …

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell,
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

All things bright …

All Things Bright and Beautiful, verses 1, 2, 7; From Hymns for Little Children (1848), by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895)

See and hear at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2l0BP1DM4U

1047) Chosen (b)

     (…continued)  There are many other times this sort of thing happens.  In Numbers 10 Moses is leading the Jews out of slavery into the promised land.  In the desert they meet Hobab, a Midianite.  Moses said to him, “Come along with us, Hobab; we’ll do you good.  The Lord has promised good things to us and you can be a part of it.”

     Ruth the Moabite, is inspired by the kindness of her mother-in-law, the Jewish woman Naomi.  Both of their husbands are dead, but Ruth will not abandon Naomi, saying, “I will go with you and your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

     In Jonah the big fish gets all the attention, but the story is really about how Jonah was called by God to preach God’s Word to the wicked city of Nineveh, Israel’s feared and hated enemy.  Jonah resists God’s call at first, is thrown off the ship he is on, and is swallowed by the big fish.  After three days Jonah is coughed up onto dry land, and then finally goes to Nineveh.  There, the king and all the people believe in God and repent of their wickedness.

     One of the most dramatic and popular stories in all the Bible is the story of Daniel being thrown into a den of lions to be torn to pieces and eaten.  The lions, though they had not been fed for days so they would be especially hungry and vicious, did not attack Daniel during the entire night he was in their den.  Persian King Darius recognized this as a miracle of God and declared to his entire kingdom, “The God of Daniel is the living God and he endures forever and his kingdom will rule over all.”

     “How odd of God to choose the Jews,” says the poem, but God had to start somewhere, and so he started with Abraham.  Who would have thought then that the children of Abraham would grow into a great nation and be a world power by the time of David and Solomon?

     In the New Testament, Jesus, born a Jew, comes as the ultimate fulfillment of this promise that the Jews were blessed to be a blessing.  When Jesus was just a baby, Mary and Joseph took him into the temple in Jerusalem.  There, an old man named Simeon came up to the young family and asked if he could hold the little one.  Simeon was then inspired by God to bless the baby Jesus in a special way, saying as a part of that blessing, “Now, Lord, let your servant depart in peace; For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”  This baby was born out of the people of Israel and for their glory, he said, adding that Jesus was also born to be a blessing to the Gentiles– everyone else in the whole world.

      Who in the time of Jesus would have thought that his 12 followers would go into all the world and begin a movement that would reach billions?  And who now would dare consider that Paul’s prediction in Philippians will ever come true, that there will come a time when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Every knee should bow?  Even in the streets of Saudi Arabia and China and Tibet and Afghanistan?  Even in Hollywood and Las Vegas and Washington, D.C. and New York?  Why not?  A mere 100 years ago nobody would have ever dreamed the there would now be a higher percentage of people worshiping Jesus in Africa than in Continental Europe, Great Britain, or the United States, and yet this is now the case.   It has been predicted that within a generation there will be more people in worship on a Sunday morning in China than in the United States.  Is it for us to doubt the promises of God?

      You see, all of this ‘blessed to be a blessing’ business is also for and about us as Christians.  Along with all the promises in the Bible, there are warnings against falling away, encouragements to remain faithful, and the call to do our bit in our age to pass on the faith in our time in whatever ways we can, seeing to its proclamation throughout the world.  Jesus is not just our own local deity.  God wants everyone to know Jesus and  believe in him.

     Naaman, and most others back in those days, believed only in such local deities.  So when Naaman did come to believe in this God of Israel, he took back with him a bag of dirt, believing as he did, that the gods were connected to the land over which they ruled.  The Old Testament preachers and prophets proclaimed a much larger God.  

     Today, no one I know believes in local deities, but many believe in personal deities.  We often hear about what MY god would or would not do; or how the god you believe in might be true for you but something else is true for me.  But how does that work?  Do these ‘personal’ gods just come into existence whenever anyone thinks up a new concept of what their god is like?  Actually, to say that all gods are real is simply another way of saying that no gods are real.

     However, Jesus, though born a Jew, was God himself, visiting and redeeming his creation.  He also rose from the dead, which had not been done before and has not been done by anyone else– not even by Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Darwin, or anyone else ever connected with starting a religion.  Jesus is not bound by his Jewish heritage, but is Lord over all the earth and wants all to know and believe in the salvation he offers.  That was the hope for God’s people from the beginning.  It doesn’t always look that way in the Old Testament, but it is there.  In the New Testament, it cannot be missed.  “Go,” said Jesus, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

     Blessed to be a blessing.  That was the plan and promise in the Old Testament, and that has always been God’s promise and mission for us also.

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Not odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews,

If through

One Jew

The rest

Get blessed!

–Andrew Wilson

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Zechariah 8:23  —   This is what the Lord Almighty says:  “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Matthew 28:19  —  (Jesus said), “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Philippians 2:9-11  —  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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Give your church, O Lord, the grace in this time to be as a saving remnant among the nations, reminding all peoples of the divine majesty under whose judgement they stand, and of the divine mercy of which they and we have a common need.  Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), Justice and Mercy, page 97.

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1046) Chosen (a)

     British journalist William Ewer (1885-1977) once wrote a silly, but profound little poem using only eight words:  

How odd

Of God

To choose

The Jews.  

     A lady once expressed a similar thought in a Bible study I was leading when she said, “Everything in the Old Testament centers so much on Israel that it looks to me like if you weren’t an Israelite, you weren’t important.”  It is true that the story and the actions of God do seem to focus only on the Jews and their quest for the promised land of Israel.  But it is not true to say that no one else matters.  The descendants of Abraham were certainly chosen by God, but there was always two sides to that ‘choseness.’  The Jews were chosen for special blessings; that fact cannot be missed by even a casual reading of the Bible.  But they were also chosen for a certain responsibility: to be a blessing to all others.  This is what God intended from the very beginning.

     The very beginning of this choseness comes not long after the beginning of the Bible itself.  In Genesis 12 God called Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, saying to him (verses 2-3):

I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you.  I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.  

God choose Israel not to the exclusion of all the other people of the world, but as a way to reach out to all other nations and races.

     However, things did not always go according to the plan.  From the very beginning, even after being freed from slavery by the miracles of God, the people were ungrateful, quick to complain, and lacking in faith.  Far from being a blessing to all the peoples of the earth, the Jews seem determined to bring God’s curses down upon themselves; and on more than one occasion God does bring his wrath down upon them.  But God continued to work out his plans through these difficult people, people that in many ways resemble all people of every time and place.  

     As we become more familiar with the story, we begin to see ourselves in it quite clearly.  These stories were not just recorded to tell us about an ancient people, but are there to tell us about ourselves.  We also have been blessed in so many ways, we also (now as the church), are intended to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, but we also usually do more complaining about our problems than giving thanks for our blessings.  Churches often get so bogged down in their own problems that it is difficult for them to be much of a blessing to anyone.  If you read the story of the Bible from beginning to end, you will get to the story of Jesus, and find that in him, all the peoples of all nations and races have certainly been blessed.  The message that started with one man and then one family and then one nation, has indeed become a world-wide faith, spread to the far corners of the earth by the followers of Jesus.

     For whatever reason, that did not yet happen on an international scale in Old Testament times, but that is not to say it never happened.  There are many stories of other people, not Jews, who saw the activity of God on behalf of his people, and came to faith in Jehovah, the God who created the whole universe.  

     II Kings 5 tells just such a story.  It begins with a foreigner, a non-Jew, even an enemy of Israel (verse one):  “Naaman was the commander of the army of the King of Aram.”  Aram was Israel’s enemy.  This same verse says that the Lord had given victory to Aram through this general Naaman– victory over Israel.  God often punished Israel by giving victory to their enemies.  God had given this enemy general victory over his own people, even though this general did not yet know, or acknowledge this God.

     But Naaman had a problem.  He had leprosy, a dreadful disease for which there was no cure.  His days of soldiering would be limited.  In fact, it is surprising he was not already exiled to a leper colony.  That is what they did in those days at the first sign of the disease, so much did people fear its spreading, even though it was rarely contagious.  But Naaman was a great and valuable general, so he was not (yet) cast aside.

     Naaman had slaves.  Many people did in those days.  When you went to war you killed people and you took slaves.  One of his slaves was a young Jewish girl who had been taken captive.  It didn’t benefit her very much to be one of the chosen people.  Being chosen did not mean being exempt from hardship and tragedy.  It might even mean being subjected to special suffering to fulfill a special purpose, as seems to be the case here.  If it wasn’t for this young Jewish slave girl, we would not know this story.  There wouldn’t even be a story.

     The little slave girl felt sorry for her owner, if you can imagine that.  We can probably guess that she is a slave because of Naaman’s army– that her village was destroyed and that her parents were killed or perhaps also taken into slavery– all because of Naaman.  But she has pity on her owner, and offers an idea of where he might get some help.

     “Blessed to be a blessing,” God said in Genesis 12 when he chose Abraham for the promise.  This slave girl is bringing a blessing to her enemy.  This is the kind of thing God had in mind.  The New Testament, not yet written at the time of this story, tells us to “Love our enemies and do good to those that harm us.”  That is what this girl is doing.  She said to her mistress, who passed the word on to her husband Naaman, that there was a prophet of God in Israel who could cure leprosy.

     Naaman told this to his king, who sent a letter and some money to the king of Israel, saying “Cure Naaman of leprosy.”  Apparently the king of Aram did not know the difference between a king and a prophet, and the king of Israel, who was not able to cure leprosy, got worried.  He thought the other king’s plan was to pick a fight so that Naaman could defeat his army again, and take back some more of his citizens to be slaves.

    Elisha, the prophet that the young slave girl was referring to, got wind of this all and told the king to send Naaman over to his house.  The relieved king did so happily.  Naaman arrived, and after Elisha put him through a bit of rigamarole to humble him, Elisha healed him.  And then the healthy Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no god in all the world except this God.”  That was what God had in mind way back in Genesis 12, that all people could know Him.  (continued…)

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Isaiah 12:4  —  In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted.

Isaiah 55:5  —  Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.

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O Lord, who has warned us that you will require much from those to whom much is given:  Grant that we, who have inherited great spiritual blessings, may strive together more abundantly, by our prayers, our labors, and our gifts, to extend to those who do not yet know what we so richly enjoy; to the fulfillment of your holy will and the salvation of all humankind; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

–Author unknown, fifth century

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1045) “I’d Rather Starve”

  As this folktale from Greece points out, the virtuous soul not only loves truth for its own sake, but it also loathes the actions of falsehood.  Deceit is far more painful for that soul than bearing the hardships that sometimes accompany honesty.  (From The Book of Virtues, ed. by William Bennett, 1993, pages 636-7).

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     Once upon a time Truth and Falsehood met each other on the road.

     “Good afternoon,” said Truth.

     “Good afternoon,” returned Falsehood.  “And how are you doing these days?”

     “Not very well at all, I’m afraid,” sighed Truth.  “The times are tough for a fellow like me, you know.”

     “Yes, I can see that,” said Falsehood, glancing up and down at Truth’s ragged clothes.  “You look like you haven’t had a bite to eat in quite some time.”

     “To be honest, I haven’t,” admitted Truth.  “No one seems to want to employ me nowadays.  Wherever I go, most people ignore me or mock me.  It’s getting discouraging, I can tell you.  I’m beginning to ask myself why I put up with it.”

     “And why the devil do you?  Come with me, and I’ll show you how to get along.  There’s no reason in the world why you can’t stuff yourself with as much as you want to eat, like me, and dress in the finest clothes, like me.  But you must promise not to say a word against me while we’re together.”

     So Truth promised and agreed to go along with Falsehood for a while, not because he liked his company so much, but because he was so hungry he thought he’d faint soon if he didn’t get something into his stomach.  They walked down the road until they came to a city, and Falsehood at once led the way to the very best table at the very best restaurant.

     “Waiter, bring us your choicest meats, your sweetest sweets, your finest wine!” he called, and they ate and drank all afternoon.  At last, when they could hold no more, Falsehood began banging his fist on the table and calling for the manager, who came running at once.

     “What the devil kind of place is this?” Falsehood snapped.  “I gave that waiter a gold piece nearly an hour ago, and he still hasn’t brought our change.”

     The manager summoned the waiter, who said he’d never even seen a penny out of the gentleman. 

     “What?” Falsehood shouted, so that everyone in the place turned and looked.  “I can’t believe this place!  Innocent, law-abiding citizens come in to eat, and you rob them of their hard-earned money!  You’re a pack of thieves and liars!  You may have fooled me once, but you’ll never see me again!  Here!”  He threw a gold piece at the manager.  “Now this time bring me my change!”

     But the manager, fearing his restaurant’s reputation would suffer, refused to take the gold piece, and instead brought Falsehood change for the first gold piece he claimed to have spent.  Then he took the waiter aside and called him a scoundrel, and said he had a mind to fire him.  And as much as the waiter protested that he’d never collected a cent from the man, the manager refused to believe him.

     “Oh Truth, where have you hidden yourself?” the waiter sighed.  “Have you now deserted even us hard-working souls?”

     “No, I’m here,” Truth groaned to himself, “but my judgment gave way to my hunger, and now I can’t speak up without breaking my promise to Falsehood.”

     As soon as they were on the street, Falsehood gave a hearty laugh and slapped Truth on the back.  “You see how the world works?” he cried.  “I managed it all quite well, don’t you think?”

     But Truth slipped from his side.

     “I’d rather starve than live as you do,” he said.

     And so Truth and Falsehood went their separate ways, and never traveled together again.

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Exodus 20:16  —   You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Psalm 120:2  —  Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.

Proverbs 12:22  —  Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.

Ephesians 4:25  —  So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

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Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins, and deliver us from all evil; confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and bring us to life everlasting.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer