1085) Visits From Jesus (part one of two)

     Ruth kept looking at the envelope that had just arrived in a most unusual way.   She was having her morning coffee at the kitchen table.  Her husband had gone to work and the children were at school.  She had the day off from her job, so she would be home alone for a few hours.  She reached for her coffee cup to take another sip, and there was the envelope.  A moment ago it was not there, and now it was.  Where had it come from?  She looked around quickly.  There was no one else in the house, and she had been sitting right there all the while.  She had not heard anything.  But there was this envelope.

     Trembling, she opened the envelope, took out the enclosed letter, and read this short message:

Dear Ruth, I am going to be in your neighborhood this afternoon and I’d like to stop by for a visit.  Love always, Jesus

     Ruth stared at the bottom line.  Jesus.  She did not move for a long time.  All the possibilities went through her mind.  It was some elaborate trick, she was losing her mind, she was dreaming; or, it truly was a miracle, and Jesus would soon be there for a visit.  She did believe in Jesus, and did believe that Jesus could do miracles; but why one like this and why for her?  “Why would Jesus want to visit me?” she thought, “I’m not anyone special.”

     Whatever it was, Ruth decided she would respond as if it really were a letter from Jesus.  If she was losing her mind, at least no one was home to see it.  But just in case it was from Jesus, she would be prepared.  After all, the envelope did appear out of nowhere.

     With the decision made, Ruth’s mind shifted from miracles to practicalities.  If Jesus was coming for a visit, she would have to have something to serve him.  She needed to run to the corner store.  She grabbed her purse and was off down the street.  At the store, she couldn’t decide what to get.  What would Jesus like?  She decided she’d just get a little of everything, and have a whole variety of items on hand.  It took her longer than she thought it would, and by the time she left, she had two full bags and was in a hurry.

     As Ruth walked down the street with her arms full, she noticed two people approaching her from out of the alley.  They were shabbily dressed and even a little scary looking.  But when the man spoke he had a polite voice.  “Ma’am, can you help us out?” he said.  “I’ve been out of work, and my wife and I haven’t eaten for a while.  We had a long walk to get here and we’re cold and we’re hungry.  Anything you could give us, would be much appreciated.”

     “Look,” Ruth said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any time.  I have a very important guest coming, and I need what I have here and I’m in hurry.”

     The man was obviously disappointed, but looked at her kindly, said he understood, and they turned away.

     As she watched them leave, Ruth’s heart sank.  “Wait,” she called out to them, starting to pick out a couple items from her bag.  They returned as she tried to decide what to keep and what to give them.  Finally, she just gave them both bags, and said “Here, you need this more than I do.  I’ll figure something else out for my guest.”  They thanked her again and again.  As they walked away, Ruth noticed how much the lady was shivering.  Without a thought, she took off her coat and gave it to the lady.  “Here, you can have this too,” she said, “I have another one at home.”  Again, they thanked her.

     Ruth smiled and turned to walk the two blocks home.  Now she was cold and was returning with nothing to serve her guest.  That was bad enough, but it would be worse to miss the visit from Jesus, so she hurried home empty-handed to wait.

     Before long, she was back at her kitchen table.  Once again, there was a warm cup of coffee ahead of her.  A fresh pot of coffee was on the stove, so at least she would have that to offer Jesus.  As she sat there, she was wondering if there were any Bible verses about Jesus drinking coffee, but she could not think of any.  Deep in thought, she reached down for her cup, and her hand bumped an envelope.  Another envelope appeared out of nowhere.  She opened it quickly, and read the letter’s brief message:

Dear Ruth, It was so good to see you again.  Thank you for all the food.  And thank you also for the beautiful coat.  Love always, Jesus

     That story may sound familiar to you.  This concept of Jesus appearing under the guise of someone in need has been written about before.  The writer of this story (found on the internet) may have gotten the idea from a story by the great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy.  Tolstoy wrote a short story called Martin the Cobbler, in which Martin, like Ruth, is informed that Jesus would visit him the next day.  So Martin also makes all kinds of preparations for his special guest:  food to eat, gifts to give the Lord, and other signs of his devotion.  But it becomes a long and disappointing day.  Jesus never does appear, but instead a steady stream of needy people come into his shop.  Martin, being the good man he is, cannot refuse to help any of them.  Little by little, everything he had set aside for the visit by Jesus is given away to these desperate people.

     By the end of the day, Martin has nothing left, not even for his own supper.  But it hardly matters, he thinks, Jesus did not come to him anyway.  It must have been only a dream and nothing more.  But as he prepares for bed, Martin receives another vision.  Now it is indeed Jesus who is appearing to him.  In the vision, as in the letter to Ruth, Jesus thanks Martin for all the ways Martin was kind to him as he appeared to him throughout the day under the guise of the poor and the needy at his door.   (continued…)

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Luke 3:10-11  —  “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John (the Baptist) answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Proverbs 22:9  —  The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

Ezekiel 16:49  —  (The Lord says), “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

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Teach us to see, O Lord, that when we give to others, we give to you.  We ask this for the sake of Jesus, through whom you give all things.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Prayer, Concordia Publishing House, page 108.

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1084) Cherish the Time

By James Dobson, p. 295, Night Light, Multnomah Press, 2000.

     Think about the people you love.  Have you thanked them recently for what they mean to you?  If the Lord called you home this evening, would you feel satisfied that you had told them everything you needed to say?

     In the last months of my mother’s life, she had end-stage Parkinson’s disease and was unable to communicate or understand us.  One day, however, the Lord granted us a reprieve.  When Shirley and I visited the nursing home, my mother instantly recognized us, and I was able to thank her for being a good mother, for staying true to Jesus, and for sacrificing to put me through college.  She smiled; she understood.  I told her that my father was waiting for her in heaven and that Jesus would say “Well done!  Thou good and faithful servant.”  I prayed for her and thanked the Lord for her love in my life.  She returned our love, and we said good-bye.

     That was the last rational conversation I had with my mother, and I will always be thankful for those final moments together.  In this temporary existence, we must always seize opportunities to communicate soul to soul.  Cherish each moment with your partner, family, and friends.  Tell them how important they are to you.  Above all, live each day so that when the final call comes, Jesus will say “Well done!  Thou good and faithful servant.”

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Philippians 1:3 — I thank my God every time I remember you.

Ephesians 5:15-16 — Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Matthew 25:21a — (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!…”

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Dear Lord, thank You for all those in my family who you have given me to love and to cherish.  May we never miss an opportunity to say the words that really count.  Help us to live without regrets, always ready for the homeward call of Jesus.  Amen.

–James Dobson (adapted)

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1083) Quotes on the Resurrection

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Sometimes people approach me and say, “I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching.  I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.”  I usually respond:  “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?  The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”  That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection.  They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want.  It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing.  If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.

–Timothy Keller in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, 2008.

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I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me.  How?  Because twelve men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for forty years, never once denying it.  Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned, or put in prison.  They would not have endured that if it weren’t true.  Watergate involved twelve of the most powerful men in the world; and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks.  You’re telling me twelve apostles could keep a lie for forty years?  Absolutely impossible.

–Charles Colson

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To preach Christianity meant (to the Apostles) primarily to preach the Resurrection…  The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the book of Acts.  The Resurrection, and its consequences, were the ‘gospel’ or good news which the Christians brought.

–C. S. Lewis

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The devil, darkness, and death may swagger and boast, the pangs of life will sting for a while longer, but don’t worry; the forces of evil are breathing their last.  He is risen!
– Charles R. Swindoll

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In short, I didn’t become a Christian because God promised I would have an even happier life than I had as an atheist.  He never promised any such thing.  Indeed, following him would inevitably bring demotions in the eyes of the world.  Rather, I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus really is the one-and-only Son of God who proved his divinity by rising from the dead.  That meant following him was the most rational and logical step I could possibly take.
– Lee Strobel

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The truth of the resurrection gives life to every other area of gospel truth.  The resurrection is the pivot on which all of Christianity turns and without which none of the other truths would much matter.  Without the resurrection, Christianity would be so much wishful thinking, taking its place alongside all other human philosophy and religious speculation.
– John MacArthur

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Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.

–Frederick Buechner

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Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

I Corinthians 15:1-8  —  Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast…  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

I Peter 1:3-6  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.

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Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Desiderius Erasmus, Roman Catholic priest and scholar  (1466-1536)

1082) Cemeteries

All things are growing older:  The world is growing older; we ourselves are growing older.  A few more summers, a few more winters, a few more sicknesses, a few more sorrows, a few more weddings, and a few more partings, and then– what?  Why, the grass will be growing over our graves!

–J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, in his 1877 book Holiness.

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Singsaas Lutheran Church, Brookings County, South Dakota

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From The Word for Every Day, page 178, by Al Rogness, 1981:

     Whenever I preach in Singsaas, my grandparents’ church on the Minnesota-South Dakota border, my eye wanders through the window to see the gravestones nestled around the church with its white spire pointed heavenward.  Sleeping there are five of my great-grandparents, my four grandparents, many uncles and aunts and cousins.  In another prairie cemetery a few miles away my parents and our son rest side by side.

     There have been many changes since 1870 when the immigrants established their church.  My grandparents’ homesteads are in the hands of other farmers, and the grandchildren are scattered.  The only piece of this earth that the family now occupies is the graveyard.  I find nothing melancholy about having them there.  Here the rich past and the promise of a glorious resurrection come together.

     When my cousin’s 17 year-old son was killed, his parents, remembering a chance remark he had once made about resting in the Pacific, arranged a service at sea and had his ashes dropped into the great waters.  I remembered that Mahatma Gandhi had asked that his ashes be given to the life-giving Ganges River of his land, and that Jawaharlal Nehru had ordered his to be taken into an airplane and scattered across his beloved India.  I find nothing distasteful, but even something beautiful, about such expansive resting places.

     But I’m glad I can wander around the graveyards of my family.  My grandchildren love to go from marker to marker, listen to the recollections and legends I have to tell about their forebears, and be carried back to the roots of their histories.  And while I don’t then preach a sermon on the resurrection, I know their young minds move from these dead to the celebrated company that awaits them.

     Rarely now are people allowed to know death at first hand.  No longer does a family live with the labored breathing of death in the next bedroom; no longer do the dead lie in state in the living room; rarely does a whole community assemble for the funeral.  So death, such an integral part of life, is smuggled out and hidden from view.

     At Singsaas, the cemetery’s sober reminder that death is real is matched by the pulpit’s clear and powerful word of a resurrection.

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 Luke 24:5b-6a  —  (The angels at the empty tomb of Jesus said), “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”

John 3:16  —   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

I Corinthians 6:14  —  By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

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PSALM 90 (selected verses):

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered…

All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away…
Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

1081) Indestructible and Unstoppable

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By John Piper in A Godward Life:  Book Two, Multnomah Press, 1999, pages 123-4.

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     When Jesus was dead and buried, with a big stone rolled against the tomb, the Pharisees came to Pilate and asked for permission to seal the stone and guard the tomb.  Pilate said, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”  So they did.  They gave it their best shot– in vain.

     It was hopeless then; it is hopeless today; and it will always be hopeless.  Try as they may, people can’t keep Jesus down.  They can’t keep him buried.  They may use physical force or academic scorn or media blackout or political harassment or religious caricature.  For a season they will think the tomb is finally sealed.  But it never works.  He breaks out.

     It’s not hard to figure out:  He can break out because he wasn’t forced in.  He lets himself be libeled and harassed and blackballed and scorned and shoved around and killed.  Jesus said:  “I lay down my life, that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (John 10:17-18).  No one can keep him down because no one ever knocked him down.  He lay down when he was ready.

     If China was closed for forty years to Western missionaries, it’s not because Jesus slipped and fell into the tomb.  He stepped in.  And when it was sealed over, he saved fifty million Chinese from inside– without Western missionaries.  And when it was time, he pushed the stone away so we could see what he had done.

     When it looks like he is buried for good, Jesus is doing something awesome in the dark.  Jesus said:  “This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how” (Mark 4:26-27).  The world thinks Jesus is done for– out of the way.  They think his Word is buried for good in the dust of irrelevant antiquity.

     But Jesus is at work in the dark places:  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).  He let himself be buried (“no one takes my life from me”), and he will come out in power when and where he please (“I have power to take it up again”).  And his hands will be full of fruit made in the dark.

     “God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).  Jesus is alive today “by the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16).

     For twenty centuries the world has given it their best shot– in vain.  They can’t bury him.  They can’t hold him in.  They can’t silence him or limit him.  Jesus is alive and utterly free to go and come wherever he pleases.  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).   All things were made through him and for him and he is absolutely supreme over all other powers (Colossians 1:16-17).

     Trust him and go with him no matter what.  You cannot lose in the end.  Stand in awe of his freedom and quiet, invincible power.

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Matthew 27:62-66  —  The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’  So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.  Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead.  This last deception will be worse than the first.”  “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”  So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Matthew 28:1-7  —  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

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.

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Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Erasmus

1080) Eleazar and Bart (part three of three)

 A story based (loosely) on Acts 5:27-40, Mark 10:46-52, and Acts 3:1-10.

     (…continued)  I couldn’t get around, but now Bart could, so he followed Jesus all over Jerusalem that week.  In the evening, he would come back and tell me about this new Messiah.  Jesus did many more miracles, along with preaching and teaching every day.  The crowds around him were always large.  But things were getting tense.  Jesus had supporters who would die for him, and there were others who wanted him dead.  Unfortunately, the ones with the power in the city were the enemies of Jesus.  They were able to get Jesus arrested, and then, sentenced to death.  That was a huge disappointment for me.  I had heard that Jesus was healing people of all sorts of ailments, even those like myself who could not walk.  I kept hoping he might come my way again.  Bart had even told the leader of the disciples about me– a man named Peter.  But that would not be happening now.  Jesus was on the cross, being crucified between two thieves.  Messiah or not, how could they kill this good man who had helped so many, and could have helped so many more.  We did not understand it, but who can understand Roman and Jewish politics?

     Things were quiet then for a couple days.  No begging is allowed on the Sabbath, but Sunday morning I was back out on the street bright and early.  I heard a couple soldiers talking about some tomb being broken into overnight.  Just then Bart came running up and told me it was Jesus’ tomb they were talking about.  The tomb of Jesus was empty!  Bart said the official explanation was that the body was stolen.  

     “But why would anyone want a dead body?,” I asked.

     “That is what everyone is wondering” Bart said.  “Some are saying Jesus rose from the dead and has already appeared to some people, and others are saying his followers stole the body so they could say he was risen from the dead.”

     “But why would anyone want to make up a story like that?” I asked.  “Do they also want to be nailed to a cross?”

     “That’s what I thought,” said Bart, “So I think Jesus might be alive again.”

     “That’s not what I meant,” I said.

     “Why not?” said Bart, “We had heard that he raised others from the dead, and you know what he did for me. God can do anything, and I believe this man was from God.”

     I never saw Jesus again.  I saw him only for that brief moment before he gave Bartimaus his sight.  But I did become convinced that he was alive, because Bartimaues did see Jesus a few days later, and told me all about it.  Jesus was around for only a few weeks after his resurrection, and then he returned to heaven.  He never did get together an army, and never did fight, and, he never did get back to heal me.  Yet, he said he was the Messiah, and so I came to believe in a different kind of Messiah, one we never expected.  And I didn’t spit anymore when I hear the word.

     Several weeks later Bart introduced me to Peter.  Peter sat down by me and we talked for a long time.  I told him about my experiences with other ‘messiahs.’  He told me many wonderful stories about the true Messiah.  Then he said a prayer for me.  When he was done, he looked at me and said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, get up and walk.”  I hadn’t heard about any more miracles after Jesus left, but Peter said that the spirit of Jesus was still with us.  He then reached down for my hand to help me up.  I felt the strength return to my legs, and I was able to stand, and then walk, and then even jump up and down.  

     I had been healed– delivered– in the name of the Messiah.

Peter and John Healing a Lame Man by Bertel Thorvaldsen

Peter and John Healing a Lame Man, stone carving by Bertel Thorvaldsen, 1793, Denmark

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Acts 3:1-10  —  The time of prayer was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and Peter and John were going into the temple.  A man who had been born lame was being carried to the temple door.  Each day he was placed beside this door, known as the Beautiful Gate.  He sat there and begged from the people who were going in.  The man saw Peter and John entering the temple, and he asked them for money.  But they looked straight at him and said, “Look up at us!”  The man stared at them and thought he was going to get something.  But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold!  But I will give you what I do have.  In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, get up and start walking.”  Peter then took him by the right hand and helped him up.  At once the man’s feet and ankles became strong, and he jumped up and started walking.  He went with Peter and John into the temple, walking and jumping and praising God.  Everyone saw him walking around and praising God.  They knew that he was the beggar who had been lying beside the Beautiful Gate, and they were completely surprised.  They could not imagine what had happened to the man.

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Blessed are all your people, O God and King, who have traveled over the tempestuous sea of this mortal life, and have made it to the harbor of peace and joy.   Watch over us who are still in our dangerous voyage; and remember those exposed to the rough storms of trouble and temptations.  Frail is our vessel, and wide is the ocean; but as you have set us on our course, so steer the vessel of our life toward the everlasting shore of peace.  Bring us to the quiet haven of our heart’s desire, where you, O God, live and reign for ever and ever.  

–St. Augustine (354-430)

1079) Eleazar and Bart (part two of three)

A story based (loosely) on Acts 5:27-40, Mark 10:46-52, and Acts 3:1-10.

     (…continued)  After enough messiahs and their small armies were crushed by the Romans, the whole idea died down for a while.  Sure, the religious ones still talked about the messiah that God would one day send, but no one was still foolish enough to try and become one, or, to follow one.

     But now there was excitement again in Jerusalem on that day that you call Palm Sunday.  Jesus of Nazareth was coming into the city, and many people were saying that he was the real Messiah, that he was the one who would save Israel.  “We will see,” I thought.  I knew he would end up dead like all the rest, and so would his followers.

     This Jesus had been staying with friends in Bethany for few days, and now would be here.  Many people were happy about this, but we heard that the religious leaders were worried and angry.  I could not have cared less, except that he might throw a few coins in my cup on the way past; and then I would spit on him.  It was my faith in a ‘messiah’ that ruined my life.

     I hear much where I sit every day, and I must admit I had been hearing some puzzling things about this messiah.  First of all, he didn’t fight– never did and never would, he said, even when the radicals tried to talk him into it.  And, he moved openly among the people– all the people— leaders and peasants, Galileans and Samaritans, Pharisees and sinners, Jews and Romans, and even with tax collectors and whores.  You had a problem with segregation in your country, but segregation was not a problem for us.  It was a taken-for-granted fact of life.  Yet, Jesus mixed with everyone.  And he did not seem to have a political agenda.  He talked about loving everyone, even your enemies, and even the Romans.  Everyone was puzzled.  Many of those who still hoped for a military messiah were disappointed.  My opinion was that Jesus was either really shrewd and throwing everybody off as he secretly gathered his army, or, he was a complete idiot, getting into a lot of trouble for nothing.

      But everyone, it seemed, was fascinated by him.  He could do miracles, they said.  He even raised a man from the dead in Bethany last week.  But you hear a lot of nonsense around here, so I didn’t believe any of it.  Apparently many people did, though.  It was a huge crowd that welcomed this Jesus into town that day.  They were all waving palms and covering the path with branches and even with their garments.    

      Another strange thing was that he came riding on a donkey.   “What’s the matter’’ I asked Bart, the blind beggar who always sat next to me, “can’t he walk?”

     “He can walk,” Bart said, adding, “Don’t you know your Scriptures?  The prophet Zechariah said that the Messiah would come into Jerusalem riding on a young donkey.  Jesus is making a statement by coming in on that donkey.”  

     I guess he was, and by the talk at the gate, people were already forming into two camps– those for Jesus as the Messiah and those against him.  I could see trouble coming.  As I said before, messiahs were always nothing but trouble.

     The next thing I knew, Jesus was coming our way, along with the whole crowd.  We beggars were always excited to see a crowd like that.  We would have a good day of it, and our coin cups would be full.  But the crowd moved slowly.  Jesus, it seemed, stopped to talk to many people.  That’s what I heard anyway, but I could not see much from where I was sitting on the ground.  

     Then the crowd was all around us.  I even got stepped on a couple times, but the coins were filling my cup so I didn’t care.  All of a sudden, Jesus was right there ahead of me.  He was talking to Bart.  That’s when things got interesting.  Bart was the religious type, and I could hear him say, “Lord, have mercy on me.”  And in a kind voice, Jesus said, “What do you want?”

     Bart, always the fool, said, “Lord, I want to see.”  And then I heard Jesus say, “Go, your faith has healed you.”  Just liked that, Bart was not looking off into space with that blank look he always had, but he was looking right at Jesus, and then right at me.  It was with eyes that could see, eyes wide open with surprise and wonder.  Then the crowd pressed around us, and Jesus was gone, and then Bart was gone.  He was off running around looking at everything and telling everyone.

     About an hour later Bart was back. “Eleazer,” he said, “I can see.”

     “Yes,” I said, “I’ve known you for 25 years, and you’ve been blind all the while.  How did he do it?”

     “He is the Messiah,” Bart said.

     “But the Messiah is supposed to fight Romans,” I said, “not heal blind beggars.  Besides, what’s he going to do for me?”

     “I don’t know, Eleazer, I don’t know” Bart said.  “I just know that I was blind and now I can see.  Anyone who can do that is worth following.”  (continued…)

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Mark 10:46-52  —  Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”  So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up!  On your feet!  He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.  The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

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O Lord, mercifully assist us.  Direct our lives toward the goal of everlasting salvation, that, surrounded by all the changes and uncertainties of life, we may be defended by your gracious and ready help in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House

1078) Eleazer and Bart (part one of three)

A story based (loosely) on Acts 5:27-40, Mark 10:46-52, and Acts 3:1-10.

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     My name is Eleazer.  I was there when Jesus the ‘Messiah’ came to Jerusalem; that is to say, the most recent in a long line of so-called ‘messiahs.’  When I heard he was in town I spit on the ground.  That is what I had always done for the last twenty-five years whenever I heard the word ‘messiah;’ I would spit to show my disgust at the very idea.  Given the chance, I would have spit on the Messiah himself.  Messiahs were a dime a dozen when I was a young man, and they all meant trouble, and none of them did us any good.  But I did not learn that until it was too late.

     The powerful King Herod the Great died when I was ten years old, and many proud young men thought that there was now a chance to overthrow the power of Rome and gain independence.  We always heard about the glory of old Israel when the great King David ruled.  Everyone feared us in those days, and we were not under any other nation’s rule.  But then our people began fighting among themselves.  They were divided by civil war and they abandoned their faith in God, and for centuries thereafter we faced defeat and humiliation.  But we always believed we would rise again.  That is what we were taught.  We believed in the words of the old prophets that a Messiah would come; the word ‘messiah’ means ‘anointed one,’ just like David was anointed.   This new Messiah would, like David, defeat our enemies, and break the chains of Roman oppression.  I grew up hearing stories of how we would one day be free.  But like the men of old, we had to be ready to die for our freedom.

      So I was ready to die.  I would follow whoever had the courage to lead us into battle against the Romans.  Finally, when I was twenty years old the ‘messiah’ came (but not the one you’ve heard about).  This one’s name was Theudas, and what a man he was!  For ten years already, starting when he was only 17, Theudas was leading raids on Roman patrols and killing many soldiers.  In your day you would call him a guerrilla fighter.  He put the fear of God in the Romans, and I couldn’t wait to join him.  But I did not know how to reach him.  He was always on the run and always hiding.  The Romans never knew where he was, but neither did anyone else.  

     Finally, one of his men came to me.  He was an old friend of our family.  He had heard I wanted to fight, so he came and asked me if I was ready.  I left home immediately, without even telling my parents, who would have objected.  I was excited when I arrived at the secret camp, given my weapons, and trained to fight.  I was a proud member of Theudas’s 400 man army.  Think of it– 400 men, the exact same number of men David had in his wilderness army.  That in itself was a sign to us that we would succeed.

     We had big plans, but we were foolish to think we could defeat Rome, the nation that ruled the world.  I will tell you what made us so crazy.  It was our faith in God that turned us into fools.  We had faith that God would deliver us.

     Well, we were delivered– right into the hands of our enemies.  One of our own men betrayed us, and for a bag of silver told the Romans where we were staying.  The soldiers charged into camp one night and surprised us while we were sleeping.  Some of our men put up a bit of a fight, but it was no use.  Many of us were killed, and most of the rest ran off into the darkness.  Theudas, the so-called messiah, was one of the first to get a sword through his neck.  I stepped out of my tent only to be run over by a Roman chariot.  That was the end of me for that fight, and, the end of me as a man.  I was knocked unconscious and my legs were crushed.  I was unable to run away with the others, and the Romans left me for dead.  

     Two days later, I woke up in the tent of some shepherds, and they said they would care for me until I died or got well.  Well, I lived, but would never walk again.  One day, they loaded me into a wagon and hauled me to Jerusalem.  They set me down at the temple gate with all the blind and disabled beggars.  That was where I would have to live out my days.  I got enough money begging to get a room and my meals, and that was my life from then on.

     Now you know why I would spit whenever I heard the word messiah.  There were other messiahs like Theudas over the years, and they all ended up the same way.  And for 25 years at the gate, if anybody wanted my opinion, I would give it.  I would say God has forgotten us, and every messiah is a liar and a deceiver.  (continued…)

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Acts 5:27-40  —  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name (Jesus),” he said.  “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

     Peter and the other apostles replied:  “We must obey God rather than men!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead— whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

    When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.  Then he addressed the Sanhedrin:  “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men.  Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him.  He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt.  He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  Therefore, in the present case I advise you:  Leave these men alone!  Let them go!  For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

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O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, grant that the spirit of wisdom may guide me away from all false choices, and that walking in your straight path, I may not stumble or fall.  Amen.

–William Bright, British historian (1824-1901)

1077) No Flak

American B-24 hit by anti-aircraft flak, November, 1944

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      Among the great heroes of World War II were the men who flew the bombers and fighter planes in thousands of dangerous missions over Europe.  One of the keys to stopping the German army on the field was to destroy the factories in Germany that were making the many vehicles and guns and ammunition needed to keep that vast war machine going.  Every day hundreds of planes took to the air to bomb these factories, flying into fierce antiaircraft fire from the ground and attacking fighter planes in the air.  These flight squadrons sustained some of the highest casualty rates of all the groups of soldiers in the entire war.

     There is an interesting story of one of pilots who survived.  He described how the anti-aircraft ammunition got more sophisticated as the war went on.  At first, many of the shells were nothing more than big bullets, and even if hit, the shell might fly through a wing or into the plane itself and not cause significant damage.  Later on, however, ‘flak’ was invented and used in the anti-aircraft guns.  These were shells that exploded upon impact, spreading shrapnel all around like a hand grenade.  A hit by one of these could blow a wing off and the plane would crash.  

     This pilot described how on one flight his plane got hit by several of these shells, and he was quite sure he would be going down.  But the shells did not explode and he made it back to the base without any trouble.  When on the ground he examined the plane and was able to locate one of the shells, still stuck in the plane’s wing.  He noticed that indeed it was one of the newer, more deadly shells, but for some reason it had not exploded on impact.  He was curious and wanted to look inside.  So he had the shell carefully taken apart, and he was surprised to see what was inside.  In that particular shell, there was no shrapnel or explosive powder at all.  All that was inside was a piece of crumpled up paper.  He unraveled the paper and saw that it had a message:  “Hello,” it said, “My name is Stanislaw.  I am a Polish Jew forced by the Nazis to work in a munitions factory.  This is all I can do for now.”

     “All I could do for now,” he wrote.  All he could do was fill those shells with crumpled up paper instead of shrapnel– that was all, but it was enough to save the life of that pilot and his crew on that day, and no doubt the lives of many others.  I had always heard about the heroic pilots in World War II, but I had never heard of Stanislaw.  But he and those like him also contributed to the defeat of one of the most powerful and wicked regimes in history.

     God calls some people to do great things for him.  It seems he calls most of us to do more common and ordinary things.  Mary, the mother of Jesus, is one of the most important people in all of the Bible.  Yet, her importance was in her very ordinary role as a mother, being obedient to God’s call on her life.  May we also be obedient to God’s call, doing our best to serve God in whatever circumstances He has placed us. 

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Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.   –Mother Theresa

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.    –Ancient Proverb

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Luke 1:38  —   “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “Let it be to me according to your word.”  Then the angel left her.

Matthew 10:42 — Jesus said, “If anyone, because he is my disciple, gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Luke 16:10 — (Jesus said), “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Matthew 25:23 — (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Colossians 3:17 — And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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“Here am I.  Send me.”   –Isaiah 6:8, where Isaiah responds to God’s call upon him to serve.

1076) This Old House

By Eric Burgdorf, Pastor at Hope Free Lutheran Church, Wyoming, Minnesota, 2011 Easter newsletter message (edited).

     I like being at home.  There is a certain amount of predictability.  I know where my toothbrush is and where the box of cereal is.  I can walk from room to room on autopilot.  I know where to position the faucet for the right temperature of water for a shower.  Even the bad things aren’t so bad once I am used to them.  Buckets go in certain places if it is a hard rain.  Electrical switches and receptacles hanging out of the wall are perfectly okay as long as you don’t touch the screws on the sides!  The door just takes an extra push to open when the humidity goes up.  And, if I lift my feet I don’t trip on the porch boards that are popping up– it just becomes habit.  No problem!  Oh, that falling down chicken coop?  Adds character to the old place.

     The problem is when somebody comes to visit.  Suddenly, the bad things that I live with as normal become obvious problems.  I need to warn guests about the light switches.  I need to point out the popped floor boards on the porch (or the holes in the hayloft floor) so they don’t fall.  When guests start looking around and asking questions about holes in the walls, wires hanging out, “temporary” pantry shelving in the living room, etc., then their polite questions make obvious the sorry state of the house.  What is normal, acceptable, and even somewhat enjoyable to me when I am home alone, is seen in a more accurate way when a guest comes.  The house needs work, things need to change.  Unless drastic measures are taken, a year from now things will be in worse shape.  Then I think about what would a realtor say if we wanted to sell.  It would be listed as a handyman special, or, maybe even as a bulldozer special.  Buyer beware!

     Our lives can be the same.  We are so used to the problems and the bad that we think this old life is normal, comfortable, and even good.  We need to step back and see our lives– yes, our families, towns, and world– from a different perspective.  This world we call our home is not what it should be.  We face death, fighting (from wars on an international level to conflicts in the home), hunger, anxiety, depression, sickness, and handicaps.  The list seems endless.  Even our thinking is bad.  We live our lives thinking selfishness is not just normal but it is the way to happiness– as long as your selfishness doesn’t bump up against my selfishness.  We are totally messed up.

     This coming Sunday is Easter, Resurrection Sunday, the highlight of the church year.  Easter, preceded by Good Friday, is the Good News that God has looked at our “normal” lives and given His judgment.  He has called evil evil.  He called death an enemy.  And He has not just given His judgment about the condition, but He has laid out a plan for change, paid the price for the change, and invited us to exchange our “normal” for His perfect and very good.  Easter is the proof that God has not forsaken us.  Easter is the proof that God loves us.  Easter is the proof that everything is changed.  Jesus rose from the dead!  Think about that.  Jesus has conquered sin and all that goes with it.  What a change!  What a good change!

     As we look to Jesus and live as Jesus calls on us to live, things here will begin to change.  Then, in our own resurrection from the dead, we will experience complete renewal and change as we are brought into God’s perfect heavenly home.

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John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said),  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Revelation 21:3-5  —  I heard a loud voice shout from the throne:  God’s home is now with his people.  He will live with them, and they will be his own.  Yes, God will make his home among his people.  He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain.  These things of the past are gone forever.  Then the one sitting on the throne said:  I am making everything new.  Write down what I have said.  My words are true and can be trusted.”

Romans 8:18-21  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8:24-25  —  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

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 Heavenly Father, your Son has promised that he is preparing a place for us.  Prepare us also for that place in your home.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.