1075) My Ants

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     God is always doing the unexpected to win us back to Himself.  And what could be more unexpected than for God himself to come among us, take our sins upon himself, and suffer and die for us so that we might be forgiven and return to Him?  Three thousand years ago the Psalmist (8:3-4) wondered about this very thing when he wrote, “Almighty God, when I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the sun and the moon which you have set in place, what are we that you even pay attention to us and care for us?”

     When I read those verses I think about the many ants that live rent-free on my property.  Soon, they will again be building their little kingdoms all over my lawn.  I don’t care about ants and I don’t pay any attention to them; that is, unless they get to be too much of a nuisance, and then I poison them or step on them.  Why should I care about ants?  

     But when you think about it, we have more in common with ants than we have with God.  In the spectrum from little to big, from unimportant to very important, from lower to higher forms of intelligence, we are far closer to the ants than to God.  Look at all we have in common with ants:

We are limited to our bodies, and so are the ants.  God is an infinite being who chose to take on a body in the form of Jesus Christ, but is in no way limited by that.  God can be in all places at all times.  

We are limited to creeping around on this little planet all our days, and so are the ants.  God owns and occupies the whole universe.  

Our time on this earth is limited and then we die, just like ants.  God lives and reigns to all eternity.  

We are more intelligent than ants, but not so smart that we can’t learn something from them.  In Proverbs 6:6 God says, “Look at the ant, you sluggards, consider its ways and be wise.”  Proverbs 30:25 says the ants are little, but at least they know enough to save for the future.  We might also add they are better organized and work together more efficiently than most human organizations.  So, in some ways we might be smarter than the ants and in other ways not.  But God, far above ants and humans, knows all and sees all.

     Compared to the distance between God and us, we are only a little bigger, a little smarter, and live a little longer than ants.  Still, I am happy to ignore my ants and all the other ants in the world.  

     Yet, God cares about each one of us humans, all over the world, defiant, disobedient, and insignificant little creatures that we are.  God cares enough to tell us how to live and correct us if we disobey; cares enough to love us and promise us another life; and cares enough to come to earth in person, taking our sin upon himself so that we may be forgiven.  

     For God to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14) was a bigger stretch than it would be for me to become an ant in my backyard and dwell among them (and then, continuing the comparison, allow them to kill me!).  

     It is for us to wonder at such amazing grace, and to respond to it with love and faith and obedience.

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John 1:14…11-12  —  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Philippians 2:5-8  —  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servantbeing made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross.

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Prayer based on Psalm 8:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
Who am I that you even pay any attention to me,
    Who am I, that you even care about me?

Yet, you have made me only a little lower than the angels
    and crowned me with glory and honor.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

1074) Love and Obedience

     The book of I John has two main themes, love and obedience.  John is an old man by the time he is writing these words, and all of his theology is now focused on the basics, which he repeats over and over.  John is the writer who remembered and recorded those great words of Jesus about God’s love in John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Now, nearing the end of his life, John continues that emphasis on God’s love.

     In I John 3:1 he rejoices in this truth, saying, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be able to be called children of God.”  In the words that follow, John tells us that such love of God should lead us to a response of obedience.  Verse three says, “everyone who has this hope in him should purify himself, just as Jesus is pure.”  In verse five John says, “Jesus appeared to take away our sins, so when we are in him, there should be no sin.”  The Bible doesn’t describe only God’s love, nor does it describe only God’s commands.  Both are there, and the two are most profoundly linked in the person of Jesus Christ.  John tells us that by looking to Jesus we can be inspired to obey.

     I once heard this illustrated in a sermon by an old pastor talking about his father, a stern and dignified judge in rural Nebraska.  The son seldom saw his father wearing anything but his black suit, white shirt, and bow-tie.  He remembered how, when he was small, he looked forward to his father returning from work, even though when his dad did return it was always the same routine.  Always the dignified one, the father would say “Good afternoon, son,” and then sit on the porch swing and watch the boy play.  The father would not pick up a ball and play catch, he would not come down and push his son on the swing, he would not push the toy trucks around and make engine noises.  That was all kid’s stuff, and stern and proper fathers, especially those who were judges, were supposed to sit and watch, and maybe, on a rare occasion, smile a little.  That was what the father thought, and the son never saw it any other way, so he thought that is what fathers were supposed to do.

     One day, the son got into all sorts of trouble with his mother.  He chased the dog around in the house, knocked over an end table, and broke his mother’s favorite lamp.  Then he got in a fight with the boy next door and came home with his shirt all bloodied and torn.  And then he spoke disrespectfully to his mother and even said a bad word.  There had been several days like that recently, and this one was the worst.  The mother told her son that she would be reporting all of this to his father and that he would be dealing with the boy when he got home.

     When the father got home, his wife met him at the door and asked him not to sit on the porch swing, but to come inside.  The son was playing on the front yard, dreading what would come next.  He had never seen his mother so upset with him.  Finally, the door opened and the father came out and stood on the porch.  For a long time he looked at his son with that familiar stern look.  Then that father did the strangest thing.  He took off his suit coat and laid it on the porch swing.  He took off his bow-tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves.  And then he knelt down in the dirt by his son, picked up a toy truck, and said, “Son, show me how you work one of these things.”  And for the next half hour, that father and son, for the first time ever, played together in the dirt.

     Sixty years later that son, by then a retired pastor, described the impact that simple act had on him.  He said what his father did was probably very difficult for him, being the proper gentleman that he was.  But it was so unexpected and it expressed such love, that from then on, the son wanted to be good so that he would never have to disappoint his father– this father who would get down on his knees to play with him in the dirt, and to do that when the son was expecting a much deserved spanking.

   God wants us to be good.  When we obey his commands, life is better for ourselves and those around us.  That is why he gives the commands in the first place.  In the Bible, as in the home, there are several ways God encourages our obedience.  There are threats and promises, there are blessings given and blessings denied, and there are punishments and rewards.  

     But most of all, there is Jesus, the high and mighty, perfect and holy one, who comes down, not from the porch, but from heaven.  He comes to us and gets down on his knees with us in the dust and dirt of this life.  And in seeing this from Jesus, God’s own Son, and in getting to know Jesus not only as our God, but as our friend, we can begin to trust that his commands for us are good.  That’s what John meant when he was always saying things like “So we love because he first loved us,” and “No one who lives in him will want to keep on sinning,” and “If anyone obeys his Word, then God’s love is truly made complete in him.”  (I John 4:19, I John 3:6, I John 2:5)

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Lord Jesus, fill us, we pray, with your light and life that we may show forth your wonderful glory.  Grant that your love may so fill our lives that we may count nothing too small to do for you, nothing too much to give to you, and nothing too much to bear for you.  Amen.

–Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order  (1491-1556)

1073) “Long As I Remember, the Rain Been Coming Down”– Why?

For the fun of it, start with Who’ll Stop the Rain by John Fogerty, recorded by Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970; (even though this song isn’t really about rain, it’s a really good song, and it does mention rain):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIPan-rEQJA

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By John Piper, A Godward Life, Book Two, 1999, Multnomah Press, pages 28-30.

     Job 5:9-10 says, “God does great and unsearchable things, wonders without number.  He gives rain on the earth.”  In Job’s mind rain really is one of the great, unsearchable wonders that God does.  When I read this a few weeks ago, I decided to have a conversation with myself (which is what I mean by meditation).

     Is rain a great and unsearchable wonder wrought by God?  Picture yourself as a farmer in the Near East, far from any lake or stream.  A few wells keep the family and animals supplied with water.  But if the crops are to grow and the family is to be fed from month to month, water has to come from another source on the fields.  From where?

     Well, the sky.  The sky?  Water will come out of the clear blue sky?  Well, not exactly.  Water will have to be carried in the sky from the Mediterranean Sea over several hundred miles, and then be poured out on the fields from the sky.  Carried?  How much does it weigh?  Well, if one inch of rain falls on one square mile of farmland during the night, that would be 27,878,400 cubic feet of water, which is 206,300,160 gallons, which is 1,650,501,280 pounds of water.

     That’s heavy.  So how does it get up in the sky and stay up there if it’s so heavy?  Well, it gets up there by evaporation.  Really?  That’s a nice word.  What’s it mean?  It means that the water stops being liquid for a while so it can go up and not down.  I see.  Then how does it get down?  Well, condensation happens.  What’s that?  The water starts becoming liquid again by gathering around little dust particles between .00001 and .0001 centimeters wide.  That’s small.

     What about the salt?  Salt?  Yes, the Mediterranean Sea is salt water.  That would kill the crops.  What about the salt?  Well, the salt has to be taken out.  Oh.  So the sky picks up a billion pounds of water from the sea, takes out the salt, carries the water (or whatever it is, when it is not liquid water) for three hundred miles, and then dumps it (now turned into liquid again) on the farm?

     Well, it doesn’t dump it.  If it dumped a billion pounds of water on the farm, the wheat would be crushed.  So the sky dribbles the billion pounds of water down in little drops.  And they have to be big enough to fall for one mile or so without evaporating, and small enough to keep from crushing the wheat stalks.

     How do all these microscopic specks of water that weigh a billion pounds get heavy enough to fall (if that’s the way to ask the question)?  Well, it’s called coalescence.  What’s that?  It means the specks of water start bumping into each other and join up and get bigger, and when they are big enough, they fall.  Just like that?  Well, not exactly, because they would just bounce off each other instead of joining up if there were no electric field present.  What?  Never mind.  Take my word for it.

     I think, instead, I will just take Job’s word for it.  I still don’t see why drops ever get to the ground, because if they start falling as soon as they are heavier than air, they would be too small not to evaporate on the way down.  But if they wait to come down, what holds them up till they are big enough not to evaporate?  Yes, I am sure there’s a name for that too.  But I am satisfied for now that, by any name, this is a great and unsearchable thing that God has done.  I think I should be thankful— lots more thankful than I am.

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Job 5:9-10  —  (God) performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.  He provides rain for the earth; he sends water on the countryside.

Leviticus 26:4  —  (God says), “I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit.”

Zechariah 10:1  —  Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.  He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.

Matthew 5:45  —  (Jesus said) “Your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

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All good gifts around us

Are sent from heaven above; 

So thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,

For all his love.

–Matthias Claudius, German poet  (1740-1815)

1072) Faithful Unto Death (b)

Mark 8:34-36  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

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     (…continued)  What does this radical call to discipleship mean for those who are not persecuted for their faith?  What does it mean for us to “take up our cross and follow Christ?”  Is going to church once a week enough for believers who live in less dangerous times?

     Well, going to church is where it begins.  The weekly worship service has been at the center of the Christian life in every time and place from the very beginning.  Yes, God’s love and gifts are freely given, but the Bible warns against refusing those gifts– and so it is dangerous to refuse to pay attention to God in the one hour a week that is provided, and that He so specifically commands in one of His ten commandments: Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.  Certainly, this is the easy part.  Jesus spoke of being willing to give up our very lives, if necessary, to follow him.  Giving up one hour a week, by comparison, seems like nothing at all.  That one hour is not all it takes to be a Christian, but this is where it must begin.

     The weekly worship is also the center of the life of every congregation.  Every congregation has other things going on from which members may pick and choose for their involvement.  But the bottom line is that they must gather for worship.  The strength of a congregation is determined by the portion of its members that worship together every week.  When members are in worship, everything else necessary in that congregation will follow.  When worship is not attended, nothing else will happen.  No church will survive without it.  Therefore, each person’s attendance at worship each week strengthens the congregation, just as each absence weakens it.  Again, this is the easy part.

     The hard part is the other 167 hours a week.  One can be a good Christian without spending any more time in church than Sunday morning, but all of life is lived in the presence of God; and God has something to say about every aspect of life.  We all know the rules:  be honest, tell the truth, don’t steal, be grateful, love your enemy, forgive others as you would want God to forgive you, keep your promises, keep your thoughts and actions pure and honorable, and so forth.  

     Some of these things are required by law.  For example, if you steal a car, the police will look for you, and you may go to prison.  But in other areas, it is just between you and God.  For example, there is no law requiring you to forgive your neighbor.  Outward acts of revenge, like slashing his tires, could get you in trouble.  But forgiveness is a matter of the heart, and required only by God.  That’s where the hard part comes in.  If you don’t believe in God, you don’t have to worry about it.  But if you are a Christian and holding a grudge, you are going to cringe when you pray the Lord’s Prayer and ask God to forgive your sins in the same way as you have forgiven those who have sinned against you.  

     There is also no law against complaining about everything under the sun.  But if you are a Christian, you ought to remember to be thankful and keep things in a Biblical perspective, and the Bible tells you that your life and everything in it is an undeserved gift of God.  For one more example, the law of the land guarantees free speech, but the Christian is bound by a higher law; so God’s Word commands us to watch out tongues, and use our words for good and not evil.

     Going to church is easy.  The hard part comes in the rest of the week.  It isn’t enough to just obey the law and stay out of jail.  God expects much more of us, and the blessing is that as we live life by that higher standard, we are living life as God intended it to be, and that makes a better world for everyone.  God’s law is given to teach us how to live in the goodness he created us for.  Even though obedience is at times difficult and can be a burden, we do like it when other people live by that same higher standard– and your friends don’t talk behind your back, and the guy selling you the used car tells you the honest truth about the transmission that is about to go out, and your next door neighbor doesn’t hold a grudge for the stupid remark you said to him in anger two years ago, and your brother-in-law gives you the benefit of the doubt and chooses not to take your lame joke as the mean-spirited ridicule it sounded like, and the guy at work still is friendly to you even though you beat him out a promotion that should have been his– and so on. There is something in us that is quick to overlook our own wrongdoing, foolishness, and bad judgment.  But we do always appreciate goodness in other people.  There is a good purpose in every one of God’s commands.  Even if we find obedience and the call to goodness at times annoying, we can always see the reasons for the rules when they are applied to others.

     Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him.  That will mean something different for everyone.  But his use of the image of the cross does imply that obedience will not always be easy.  We should not expect it to be so.  While we are grateful for his offer of forgiveness, we should also take serious his serious call to obedience.

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Lord, I am willing to appear to all the world to have lost my life, if only I may have made it good in your sight.

–William Henry Temple Gairdner, British missionary to Egypt  (1873-1928)

1071) Faithful Unto Death (a)

     We have grown used to hearing about Muslim extremists who sacrifice their lives in suicide bombings.  They will gladly blow themselves up, along with as many innocent victims as they can take with them, believing that they are serving their god in a Holy War.  They die gladly, believing that upon death they are transported into heaven for an eternity of happiness.

     That concept, awful as it is, is similar to some of the words of Jesus.  In Mark 8:31 Peter declared his belief that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.  Jesus responded by saying that he would soon suffer at the hands of the religious leaders and be put to death.  Peter objected.  Jesus told him to be quiet, going on to say even more about the importance of being willing to die for one’s faith.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he too must deny himself, and be willing to take up his cross, and follow me”  Crosses were for killing people, so Jesus was telling them that they all better be ready to accept that same fate.  Then Jesus added, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the Gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?”  That does sound at least a little bit like what motivates suicide bombers.

     This meditation is about the importance of religious seriousness and commitment, which is what we do see in the terrorists, and, is what Jesus wants from us.  But first we must look at the huge differences between what Jesus said and the Muslim suicide killers.  Jesus, like the terrorists, did give his life in a religious cause– but that is where the similarities end.  Jesus invited others to the truth, but he did not force anyone to see it his way, and certainly not by violent means.  When arrested, he did not fight back; and he told his disciples to put their swords away, even though they were ready to fight to defend him.  Not only that, but Jesus died loving and forgiving his enemies; in fact, he was dying for the forgiveness of their sins also.  

      This is very different from the terrorists who take the offensive, killing whoever they define as the enemy, including innocent women and children.  Yes, they are willing to lose their lives for their faith, but it is a complete perversion of what Jesus is talking about.  Jesus fearlessly proclaimed the truth, regardless of the dangers to himself.  But he harmed no one, not even to defend himself, even though he had at his fingertips the power to do so.

     That being said, there is a truth in Jesus’ words that we must not allow the fanatics to distort for us.  There are things more important than life itself, and there is a long and rich heritage of Christian martyrs who were called upon to take up their cross and follow Jesus, even to the point of death.  It began with the disciples themselves, almost all of whom were killed for proclaiming their faith.  This persecution of Christians has continued on through every century since those first martyrs.  More Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in any previous century, and the 21st century is starting out even worse.  For all these martyrs, it was more important to hang on to their faith than to hang on to life.  They firmly believed, even onto death, that “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the sake of the Gospel, will save it.  For what good is it for a man to gain the whole world, but forfeit his own soul.”  What Jesus meant was that this whole world and everything in it is temporary, but the soul of each one of us is eternal.  

     Not everyone is called on to make that choice life and death decision.  Most of the first disciples did give their lives proclaiming the Gospel, but John did not, and neither have most Christians in most times and places since then.  Chances are, we will not be called on to give our lives either.  Things are pretty safe for Christians in Minnesota at this time, but the message for us is that if it ever does become a matter of life or death, we must be willing to give up our lives rather than our faith.  (continued…)

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Matthew 26:52-53  —  “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”

James 1:12 —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Revelation 2:10  —  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

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O God, 

From whom to be turned, is to fall,

To whom to be turned, is to rise,

And with whom to stand, is to abide forever;

Grant us in all our duties, your help,

In all our perplexities, your guidance,

In all our dangers, your protection,

And in all our sorrows, your peace.  Amen.

–St. Augustine  (354-430)

1070) Just Do What Needs to Be Done

Civic responsibility means doing something, not complaining that something ought to be done, as in this story told by William Bennett in The Moral Compass, pages 613-614.

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     There is a story told of a king who lived long ago in a country across the sea.  He was a very wise king, and spared no effort to teach his people good habits.  Often he did things which seemed to them strange and useless; but all that he did, he did to teach his people to be industrious and careful.

     “Nothing good can come to a nation,” he said, “whose people complain and expect others to fix their problems for them.  God gives the good things of life to those who take matters into their own hands.”

     One night, while everyone else slept, he placed a large stone in the road that led past his palace.  Then he hid behind a hedge and waited to see what would happen.

     First came a farmer with his wagon heavily loaded with grain which he was taking to the mill to be ground.

     “Well, whoever saw such carelessness?” he said crossly, as he turned his team and drove around the stone.  “Why don’t these lazy people have that rock taken from the road?” And so he went on complaining of the uselessness of others, but not touching the stone himself.

     Soon afterward, a young soldier came singing along the road.  The long plume of his cap waved in the breeze and a bright sword hung at his side.  He was thinking of the wonderful bravery he would show in the war.

     The soldier did not see the stone, but struck his foot against it and went sprawling in the dust.  He rose to his feet, shook the dust from his clothes, picked up his sword, and stormed angrily about the lazy people who had no more sense than to leave such a huge rock in the road.  Then he, too, walked away, not once thinking that he might move it himself.

     So the day passed.  Everyone who came by complained and whined because the stone lay in the road, but no one touched it.

     At last, just at nightfall, the miller’s daughter came past.  She was a hard-working girl and was very tired because she had been busy since early morning at the mill.

     But she said to herself, “It is almost dark.  Somebody may fall over this stone in the night, and perhaps he could be badly hurt.  I will move it out of the way.”

     So she tugged at the heavy stone.  It was hard to move, but she pulled and pulled, and pushed, and lifted until at last she moved it from its place.  To her surprise, she found a box underneath.

     She lifted the box.  It was heavy, for It was filled with something.  Upon it was written: “This box belongs to the one who moves the stone.” .

     She opened the lid and found it was full of gold!

     The miller’s daughter went home with a happy heart.  When the farmer and the soldier and all the others heard what had happened, they gathered around the spot in the road where the stone had been.  They scratched at the dust with their feet, hoping to turn up a piece of gold.

     “My friends,” said the king, “we often find obstacles and burdens in our way.  We may complain out loud while we walk around them if we choose, or we can lift them and find out what they mean.  Disappointment is usually the price of laziness.”

     Then the wise king mounted his horse and, with a polite “Good evening,” rode away.

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Galatians 6:9  —  And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Proverbs 14:23  —  In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty.

Matthew 5:16  —  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

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Lord, I give you all that I am this day.
Take away my weariness, so that I may be inspired in my work.
Give me opportunities to reveal your love to all I meet.
Keep my mind clear and focused on all I need to achieve,
And give me the wisdom to overcome difficulties and find solutions.
I look to you and trust you are with me this day.  Amen.

–Anonymous

1069) It Looks Like We’re All Alone

Astronomers have long searched the sky for evidence that we’re not alone.  But new research is suggesting we may be one of a kind, says John Stonestreet in his March 11, 2016 blog at:

 www.breakpoint.org

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     There’s an old joke about Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, Watson.

     “Let’s go camping,” Holmes says to Watson one day.  “Jolly good!” replies Watson.  So the two pack up their gear, head into the woods, set up their tent and by nightfall, are sound asleep.  Hours later, Watson is awakened by a nudge from Holmes.

     “Watson!” says the detective, “Look up! What do you see?”  “I see the sky, full of stars,” says Watson, a little annoyed.  “And what do you deduce from that?” asks Holmes.  Watson thinks for a moment, and replies, “Well, given the thousands of stars, it’s improbable that ours is the only planet capable of sustaining life.  Therefore, other beings like ourselves are likely out there somewhere, looking back at us.  Is that what it means?”

     “No, you nincompoop,” replies Holmes. “It means someone has stolen our tent!”

     Well, Watson may have missed an obvious clue, but scientists have long shared his conclusion about the stars.  According to the famous Drake equation, a probabilistic argument designed by SETI pioneer, Frank Drake (in 1961), there could be as many as 100 million thriving, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in our galaxy— many of them more advanced than our own.

     Astronomer Carl Sagan helped popularize this idea in his 1980 miniseries, “Cosmos.”  “With 400 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone,” Sagan reasoned, “could ours be the only one with an inhabited planet?  How much more likely it is that the galaxy is throbbing and humming with advanced societies!”

     But decades later, scientists no longer share Sagan’s confidence.  As one astrophysicist argues in a forthcoming paper, the old estimates vastly inflated the number of potential alien civilizations.  Eric Zackrisson at Sweden’s Uppsala University suggests that modern research points not to a galaxy “throbbing and humming” with life, but to one in which Earth-like planets are exceedingly rare.

     It turns out that Drake’s equation failed to take into account factors that we now know to be essential to life.  For example, scientists once believed that planets orbiting a certain distance from their host stars in the so-called “Goldilocks zone” were prime real estate for creatures like us.

     But not anymore.  It turns out that the size and chemical composition of the host stars matter just as much as planetary orbits.  And according to Zackrisson, most planets in the universe likely orbit stars that bear little resemblance to our sun.  These stars are either much bigger, much smaller, or just made of the wrong stuff.

     And in light of the fruitless fifty-year search for extraterrestrial radio signals, predictions of a sky buzzing with activity are sounding less like science and more like science fiction.  Increasingly, it looks as if we are alone in the universe.

     And just how alone?  Zackrisson estimates that given all the factors that make Earth what it is, our planet may be one in 700 quintillion to host intelligent life.  That’s one out of seven followed by twenty zeros, or the estimated number of planets in the entire universe.

     Nathaniel Scharping at Discover Magazine writes with a straight face that Earth appears to have been dealt “a fairly lucky hand.”  He makes up for this understatement later, concluding that, “from a purely statistical standpoint, Earth perhaps shouldn’t exist.”

     And yet, here we are!

     Intelligent Design theorists have long pointed out how improbably unique our little blue planet is.  And findings like this only deepen the problem for materialists.  Because if thinking creatures emerged here and nowhere else, it makes us look less like accidents and more like— dare I say it— miracles.

     Of course, for those who believe in the God Who, as Isaiah wrote, “spreads [the heavens] like a tent,” it’s no surprise.  In fact you might say it’s “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

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Psalm 104:1-2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul.  Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.  The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.

Isaiah 40:10a…12…21-22…25-26  —  See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm…  Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?  Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?…  Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood since the earth was founded?  He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.  He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in…  “To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.  Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

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Psalm 8:1, 3-5, 9:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens…

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor…

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

1068) Handle With Care

“Fragile Worshipers” by Richard Beck, at: http://www.experimentaltheology.blogspot.com; posted March 7, 2016

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     I used to be a fragile worshiper.

     I’d go to church and there would always be something that set me off.  Sometimes it would be a song lyric that I found theologically problematic or overly sentimental.  Sometimes it was something someone said from the front.  And a lot of the time it would be getting upset about something I wished we’d do differently.  “I wish we would do it this way instead of that way,” I’d often remark.

     The littlest thing would get me disgruntled and annoyed.  Worship had to be perfect.  Any theological slip ups and I’d pounce.  I had to agree with and like everything.  Start to finish.

     Perhaps you’ve been a fragile worshiper, and maybe still are.  Are you overly sensitive to and emotionally triggered by anything that is said or sung in church that you don’t like or agree with?

     Over the years I’ve worked hard to become less brittle in worship, more tolerant of song lyrics or shared thoughts I don’t really like or agree with.  I got fed up with the vanity and entitlement of being a fragile worshiper, fatigued by the narcissism of making myself the measure of all things theological and liturgical.

     Yes, any given Sunday there is a bunch of stuff I wish wasn’t said or sung.  But I’m filled with a lot more grace about it all.

     I’ve given up being a fragile worshiper.

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John 4:23-24  —  (Jesus said), “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Luke 4:8  —   Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

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Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

–Psalm 19:14

1067) No Time for the Old Man

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An Old Story, as retold in The Book of Virtues, ed. by William Bennett.

     Once there was an old man who had lost his wife and lived all alone.  He had worked hard as a tailor all his life, but misfortunes had left him penniless, and now he was so old he could no longer work for himself.  His hands trembled too much to thread a needle, and his vision had blurred too much for him to make a straight stitch.  He had three sons, but they were all grown and married now, and they were so busy with their own lives, they only had time to stop by and eat dinner with their father once a week.

     Gradually the old man grew more and more feeble, and his sons came by to see him less and less.  “They don’t want to be around me at all now,” he told himself, “because they’re afraid I’ll become a burden.”  He stayed up all night worrying what would become of him, until at last he thought of a plan.

     The next morning he went to see his friend the carpenter, and asked him to make a large chest.  Then he went to see his friend the locksmith, and asked him to give him an old lock.  Finally he went to see his friend the glassblower, and asked for all the old broken pieces of glass he had.

     The old man took the chest home, filled it to the top with broken glass, locked it up tight, and put it beneath his kitchen table.  The next time his sons came for dinner, they bumped their feet against it.

     “What’s in this chest?” they asked, looking under the table.  “Oh, nothing,” the old man replied, “just some things I’ve been saving.”

     His sons nudged it and saw how heavy it was.  They kicked it and heard a rattling inside.  “It must be full of all the gold he’s saved over the years,” they whispered to one another.

     So they talked it over, and realized they needed to guard the treasure.  They decided to take turns living with the old man, and that way they could look after him, too.  So the first week the youngest son moved in with his father, and cared and cooked for him.  The next week the middle son took his place, and the week afterward the eldest son took a turn.  This went on for some time.

     At last the old father grew sick and died.  The sons gave him a very nice funeral, for they knew there was a fortune sitting beneath the kitchen table, and they could afford to splurge a little on the old man now.

     When the service was over, they hunted through the house until they found the key, and unlocked the chest.  And of course they found it full of broken glass.

     “What a rotten trick!” yelled the eldest son.  “What a cruel thing to do to your own sons!”

     “But what else could he have done, really?” asked the middle son sadly.  “We must be honest with ourselves.  If it wasn’t for this chest, we would have neglected him until the end of his days.”

     “I’m so ashamed of myself,” sobbed the youngest. “We forced our own father stoop to deceit, because we would not observe the very commandment he taught us when we were young.”

     But the eldest son tipped the chest over to make sure there was nothing valuable hidden among the glass after all.  He poured the broken pieces onto the floor until it was empty.  Then the three brothers silently stared inside, where they now read an inscription left for them on the bottom:  HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER.

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A wonderful German television Christmas commercial about another neglected father:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4a-_2kybWI

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Two quotes from Mother Teresa:

The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family.

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Do we know our poor people?  Do we know the poor in our house, in our family?  Perhaps they are not hungry for a piece of bread.  Perhaps our children, husband, wife, are not hungry, or naked, or dispossessed, but are you sure there is no one there who feels unwanted, deprived of affection?

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Deuteronomy 5:16  —  Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Malachi 1:6a  —  A son honors his father, and a slave his master.  If I am a father, where is the honor due me?

Proverbs 17:25  —  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him.

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Mother Teresa’s Prayer for the Family:

Heavenly Father, you have given us the model of life in the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Help us, O Loving Father, to make our family another Nazareth where love, peace and joy reign…

Help us to stay together in joy and sorrow in family prayer.
Teach us to see Jesus in the members of our families,
especially in their distressing disguise.
May the heart of Jesus make our hearts humble like his
and help us to carry out our family duties in a holy way.
May we love one another as God loves each one of us, more and more each day, and forgive each other’s faults as you forgive our sins.
Help us, O Loving Father, to take whatever you give with a big smile…  Amen.

1066) Redeemed

The document states (top half):
“Know all men by these presents that I Harry Richardson (free man of color) do by this instrument of writing manumit and forever set free from servitude to me and my heirs or assigns my son & servant, Isaac Richardson of mulatto complecsion, aged about thirty nine years, 6 ft 1.5 inches in height with boots on, scar on his under lip from fighting in a fight.  Purchased by me from Wesley Lair of Harrison County Ky

Witness my hand this 15th day of Oct. 1860
attn: R. J. Brown

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     What does it mean to say that Jesus died on the cross for our sins?  This is at the center of our faith, but many people are not able to describe what this means.  Part of the problem is that there is no single answer.  Rather, the answer is so deep and complex and rich in meaning, that the Bible must explain it by giving not one, but several explanations, illustrations, and descriptions, each shedding light on one or another aspect of this great and wonderful gift of God.

     One of the images is that by his death on the cross Jesus redeemed us.  Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’  Jesus redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might also come to us, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”  Titus 2:13-14a  says, “We wait for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness.”  And Romans 3:23-24 says, “Our righteousness comes from God through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace that came through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

     Thus, Jesus is our Redeemer, but what is that?  The word ‘redeem’ is often used in church, but not very often in daily conversation.  One might say they did something good to redeem themselves, but that is not what is meant by the Bible’s use of the word.  The original meaning of the word came from the practice of slavery.  Slavery was a part of life in the ancient world, and slaves were bought and sold like we buy and sell cars.  And once in a great while, a slave would be bought, paid for, and then, graciously set free.  That was called redeeming that person, and the one who did it was his redeemer.  Someone in bondage would be set free by the power and good will of the one who paid the price for his freedom.

     One of the first times the word redeem appears in the Bible is in Exodus 6:6.  God is telling the Hebrews about his intention to free them from their bondage in slavery to the Pharaoh.  God said, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you up out of the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them and I will redeem you with mighty acts of judgment.”  God is God, and is not about to pay anyone for anything, but by His mighty acts He would redeem them and set them free.  Therefore, in the rest of the Old Testament the Jews often referred to God as their Redeemer.  The words redeem or redeemer or redemption appear in the Bible over 200 times.  What began with a reference to the freeing of the slaves in Egypt, soon became a reference to all of the many ways God frees and cares for his people.

     In the New Testament, the name Redeemer was applied to the person and work of Jesus.  When a slave was redeemed there was a payment made, so we might wonder in the case of Jesus’ death on the cross, to whom was the payment made.  This question can be asked of another similar New Testament word describing the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.  In Mark 10:45 Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  When we hear the word ransom, we usually think of kidnapping and a demand for money.  This is not exactly the same, but is similar to the redeeming of a slave.  In both, there is money demanded and money paid by someone to buy back the freedom of another person.

     So again, in the work of Christ on the cross we can ask:  who paid what to whom?  It was Jesus, of course, who paid the price, but to whom was it paid?  To the devil?  To God?  To us?  Well, no, no, and no.  To compare the work of Jesus to the work of a redeemer in the slave trade, or to one who pays a ransom to a kidnapper is not a complete picture of the truth.  These are but images, and no single image can give a thorough and precise picture of something so deep and mysterious.  The many different images in the Bible are given in an attempt to illustrate in human words and with human examples something in the heart of God that is beyond our ability to completely understand.

     Instead of asking to whom was the debt paid, it is more Biblical to ask, “What did it cost the one who paid it?”  The Bible’s answer to that question is the whole story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, scourging, crucifixion, and death.  That was the price paid for our freedom– freedom not from the chains of slavery, but from our greater bondage to sin and death.  It certainly was a great price to pay for Jesus to leave heaven and come to this earth to endure all of that for us, especially when one considers how ungrateful we so often are.  

     The Bible’s greatest verse on Christ as our Redeemer comes not from the New Testament, but from the Old.  Christ had not yet come to earth, but the writer of this ancient book anticipates his coming and his victory over death (Job 19:25-27):

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes– I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!

     Everyone in the ancient world understood what a great thing it was to have a Redeemer.  It was the hope of every slave if they even dared to hope for it, for it was so very rare that one would be redeemed.  For someone to pay the price and set you free from your lifelong bondage was an unexpected and tremendous favor and blessing, never to be forgotten, and never to be taken for granted.  On the cross, Jesus became our Redeemer, freeing us from a bondage even worse than a life of slavery, winning for us our freedom from an eternity of being lost and without hope.  

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Alice King, a freed slave girl, redeemed and adopted by a Mrs. King from Lima, New York (approx. 1861)

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I know that my Redeemer lives!
What joy this blest assurance gives!
He lives, he lives, who once was dead;
he lives, my ever-living Head!

–Samuel Medley  (1738-1799)