1166) “We Is Evil Peoples in a Wicked World”

From the novel Jubilee (1966), by Margaret Walker Alexander (1915-98); (Quoted in Conversations With God: Two Centuries of African-American Prayers, ed. by James M. Washington, pp. 213, HarperCollins)

—————————————

     Before she realized where she was going she found herself deep in the woods… where there was a chapel-hush.  She heard birds softly and sweetly singing, but most of all she felt the silence of the thickly soft carpet of pine needles under her feet, and looking up she could faintly see the blue sky in thin scraps of light through the interlacing of tender young leaves and green pine needles.  She found herself a rock, and instead of sitting down she dropped to her knees.  Instinctively she began to pray, the words forming on her lips at first in a halting, faltering, and half-hesitant fashion, and then rushing out:

     “Lawd, God-a-mighty, I come down here this morning to tell you I done reached the end of my rope, and I wants you to take a-hold.  I done come to the bottom of the well, Lord, and my well full of water done run clean dry.

     “I come down here, Lord, cause I ain’t got no where else to go.  I come down here knowing I ain’t got no right, but I got a heavy need.  I’m suffering so, Lord, my body is heavy like I’m carrying a stone.  I come to ask you to move the stone, Jesus.  Please move the stone!  I come down here, Lord, to ask you to come by here, Lord.  Please come by here!

      “We can’t go on like this no longer, Lord.  We can’t keep on a-fighting, and a-fussing, and a-cussing, and a-hating like this, Lord.  You done been too good to us.  We done wrong, Lord, I knows we done wrong.  I ain’t gonna say we ain’t done wrong, and I ain’t gonna promise we might not do wrong again cause, Lord, we ain’t nothing but sinful human flesh, we ain’t nothing but dust.  We is evil peoples in a wicked world, but I’m asking you to let your forgiving love cover our sin, Lord.

      “Let your peace come in our hearts again, Lord, and we’s gonna try to stay on our knees and follow the road You is laid before us, if You only will.  Come by here, Lord, come by here, if you please.  And Lord, I wants to thank You, Jesus, for moving the stone!”

*************************

Isaiah 55:6-7  —  Seek the Lord while he may be found;  call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways  and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Psalm 41:4  —  I said, “Have mercy on me, Lord; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”

Psalm 6:2-4…6  —  Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.  My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?  Turn, Lord, and deliver me;  save me because of your unfailing love…  I am worn out from my groaning.

Matthew 20:29-31  —  As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him.  Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”  The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Luke 18:9-14  —  To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:   “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed:  ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

*************************

THE JESUS PRAYER (an ancient prayer, widely used, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church:  

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

1165) An Old Fashioned Christian Father

“Remembering My Father,” by John R. Erickson, author of the best-selling “Hank the Cow Dog” series of children’s books, posted June 18, 2016 at:  http://www.wng.org

Photo courtesy of John R. Erickson

Joseph Erickson at his piano, 1980

—————-

     I was two years old in 1945 when my father returned from military service in World War II.  He was anxious to see the son he knew only through photos and letters.  Mother said that when he walked into the house, sporting a beard and wearing his Army uniform, I ran screaming from the room and hid in a closet.  He was furious.  Joseph Erickson and I got off to a rocky start.

     When I was growing up, the third of three children, my father was an independent businessman (insurance and real estate) in a small West Texas town.  He kept an office on Main Street and had to cultivate a public personality that allowed him to function in the world of commerce.

     His customers and associates in the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce saw him as open, honest, intelligent, and witty— and indeed he was.  But he was also a very private man, skilled at controlling the access to his deepest thoughts.

     His work and civic duties kept him away from home much of the time.  He also served as organist at the First Baptist Church.  He had to be at his instrument for Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday night prayer meeting, and every night of the week when we had revivals.  He was often called upon to play at weddings and funerals, and spent Saturday afternoons practicing the organ, alone in the empty sanctuary.

     My father and I were not “pals.”  Joe Erickson was an adult’s adult and didn’t particularly enjoy the company of children— his or anyone else’s.  He seldom played with me when I was young.  He cared nothing about football or other sports, hunting, fishing, or camping.  When he was around the house, he enjoyed reading, listening to classical music, and playing the piano.

     The truth is, he knew very little about being a child.  During the Depression, he and his three brothers worked long hours in the family grocery store.  They had no time for sports or extracurricular activities at school.  They learned to work at an early age, and that’s all they knew.

     He and Mother had a clear division of labor.  He went out every day, battled the world, and made a living.  She ran the home and raised the children.  Joe was a strict disciplinarian and enforced a regime of biblical justice.  His discipline was seldom loud or angry, always swift and fair.  He kept his paddle in a large walk-in closet,… and I deserved every swat I received.

     When I was in the ninth or 10th grade, we had a tense episode.  I was feeling my oats and had outgrown Mother’s fly-swatter discipline.  One day I mouthed off to her.  Joe heard it, came thundering into the room,… and closed the door.  Between clenched teeth, he said that if I was too old to spank, we could work it out with our fists, but one way or another, I was never to treat my mother that way again.

     I had gotten my growth, was playing football, and working weekends on a ranch.  For a few hard-eyed seconds, I wondered if I could whip him.  But it was a question I didn’t want to answer.  I humbled myself and said, “Yes sir,” and stopped tormenting my poor little mother.  That was the end of it.

     I didn’t always like my father, but I respected him.  If you believe that a father should be a buddy to his children, he came up short, but he gave me a model of a strong, godly man who was faithful to his family and honest in his dealings with the public:  kind, wise, and generous.

     When I went off to college, I never dreamed I might return to my hometown.  I wasn’t interested in getting involved in my father’s business, and had I big cities on my mind.  But eight years later, things had changed.  I was married and wanted to write.  My wife Kris and I were living in Austin, and by the spring of 1970, the sleepy provincial capital we had known during the 1960s had entered into a period of explosive growth.  We didn’t like the city Austin was becoming.

     We packed up our worldly possessions and drove 550 miles north to Perryton.  We weren’t sure where we were going but planned to spend a few days visiting my parents.  I was surprised by how much I enjoyed getting acquainted with them as an adult.  We lingered.  I began going out to the tool shed behind the house to write for two hours in the cool of morning, a pattern I had been following for several years, and did some fix-up jobs around the house.

     The weeks slipped by.  One day Joe announced he had located a small rental house that would fit us pretty well.  It even had an old garage that I could turn into a writing office.  He said we might as well stick around for a while, until we had a better plan.

     We moved into the rental house, I found a job working on a ranch, and we never got around to leaving.  That was 46 years ago.

     Joe began revealing more of himself when, in the spring of 1977, my mother died suddenly during a heart bypass operation.  She was 65.  That was the only time I ever saw him cry.  He grieved for months.  Embedded in his grief was the sudden realization that his status as a strong, independent man had owed a great deal to the quiet strength of a wife who stayed in the background and didn’t say much.

     Mother’s personality covered many of his flaws and jagged edges.  He had a tendency to be stubborn, blunt, solitary, outspoken, and fiercely independent, and it fell to Anna Beth to provide backroom diplomacy.

     I think he was shocked on discovering how much and how deeply he had come to depend on her.  For several months after her death, he seemed lost, and I even wondered if he would survive.  (It’s not unusual for “strong independent men” to crumble on the death of a mate.)  But his church and circle of friends rallied around him, and he decided he wasn’t ready to check out.  Kris and I called him often, and usually shared a meal with him at least once a week.  I will always be grateful that all three of our children had the opportunity to know him.

     When I started Maverick Books in 1982, I became the third generation of Ericksons to be smitten by that most-American of impulses:  the desire to be my own boss, start my own business, and prosper from my own hard work and good management.  My grandfather Erickson, an immigrant from Sweden, was an independent grocer in Missouri.  During the Depression, he owned several stores, but he extended too much credit to his customers, went broke, and had to start all over again from nothing.

     Growing up, I showed little interest in my father’s entrepreneurial skills.  Typical of middle-class kids of my generation, I enjoyed a comfortable standard of living and never bothered to notice where it came from, or to develop a proper respect for the man who had made it possible.  Six years of living around universities fed my belief that “anyone” could start and operate a small business.  That’s what you did if you weren’t smart enough to go to college.

     I’m sad to say I viewed my father as a “Babbitt,” a shallow character in a novel of the same name by Sinclair Lewis.  Rebellious students of my generation used the term to dismiss the accomplishments of our fathers, to identify them as members of a narrow-minded, provincial bourgeoisie who practiced an unenlightened form of Christianity, grubbed for money in small businesses, and filled their time with the hollow rituals of ticky-tacky little towns.

     But once I had launched my publishing business, my perspective began to change.  Sleepless nights and days filled with anxiety about cash flow forced me to recognize that my old man had knowledge I not only did not possess but also never even dreamed existed.

     Thus began a daily ritual.  At the end of a workday, I would drive over to Joe’s house on Indiana Street (after Mother’s death, he lived alone) and we would spend an hour or two talking.  He would mix himself a Scotch and water, I would tell him what I was doing in my new business, and he would offer his opinions, whether I wanted to hear them or not.

     I didn’t always want to hear his opinions, because he had a maddening habit of telling the truth— truth delivered like a bucket of cold water on a winter day, with an ice-blue Scandinavian glare that frosted every window in the house.  In giving advice to his offspring, he could be fearless and brutal.

     Sometimes I became so angry, my eyes filled with tears and my voice trembled:  “Well, what do you expect of me?  I’m not perfect!”

     He would soften his tone, but not the bite in his eyes.  “Listen, kid,” he’d tell me, “everyone in this world will tell you how smart you are.  It’s my job to tell you how smart you aren’t.”

     He was a tough old bird, and getting hosed down by him wasn’t a pleasant experience, but we never crossed any fatal lines.  After sulking for a few days, I licked my wounds and went back.  At a time when I needed toughening, he was there to do it, and I’m very grateful.  Babbitt might have described Sinclair Lewis’s father, but not mine.

     I’m not sure he ever understood my passion to be a writer.  Writing was not something anyone in my family, on either side, had ever done, or had even thought about doing.  While I was in college, I showed him some of my short stories, but instead of giving me the praise I thought I deserved, he eviscerated me with two words:  “So what?”  I was furious and didn’t show him another piece of writing for years.

     He was right, of course.  My stories from that period were rubbish, exactly the kind of hopeless, depressing, existential, postmodern, flapdoodle that was being praised in literary circles and college English departments; but Joe was a wise man and asked the right question:  “So what?”

     In thoughtful moments, he must have wondered, “What is going to become of this kid?”  In his place, I would have wondered too— wondered and worried and prayed for some kind of miracle that would lead John into a respectable profession that a father could explain to his friends.

     His circle of friends had watched me grow up, leave home, walk away from a master’s degree, move back home, work as a cowboy, and now I was doing what?  Writing books and publishing them myself?

     My poor father didn’t have much encouraging news to pass along to his friends, whose children were doing all the things they were supposed to be doing in their 30s.  But, incredibly, he trusted my judgment.  I’m sure he drew comfort in knowing that there was a God who watched after sparrows, drunks, fools, and self-published authors … and that I had married an extraordinarily fine woman.

     Joe spent time preparing me for his death, for the time when I would have to stand alone, without him around to vet my decisions.  This wasn’t easy for me, but he did it with uncommon grace.  He didn’t fear death or consider it something foreign or unjust.  Death was part of God’s plan and it should be part of our plan too.

     He died on Dec. 31, 1989…  He left no instructions about the kind of funeral service he wanted, but I was pretty sure if he’d been around to do the planning, he would have hired the best organist in town and told her to blow the birds’ nests out of the pipes...  The organist at the church had known and admired Joe all her life, and she played several of his favorite numbers…

     There were no tears shed at his service.  He’d had a good long life and had done just about everything he wanted to do…

     During Joe’s last illness, the doctor told the family his time was near and we needed to say our last words.  I went into his room and we were alone.  He had a breathing tube in his mouth and couldn’t talk.  I’d had time to think of my last words, one sentence that would sum up a lifetime.  I took his hand and said, “You gave me what I needed to be strong, and I will take good care of your name.”  His blue eyes smiled and he gave his head a nod.

     In the years since, I have done my best to honor that pledge to my father— in my home, in my community, and on every page of every book I write.

******************************************************

Ephesians 6:4  —  Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

Proverbs 23:24  —  The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.

Hebrews 12:8-10  —  If you are not disciplined— and everyone undergoes discipline— then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!  They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

******************************************************

Father God thank you for your perfect fathering.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; shepherded and nurtured; disciplined and challenged so I can flourish in your purpose and plan for me and bear my Father’s image more fully still.

Father God, thank you for your perfect example.  I praise you because you show all fathers how to love; to shepherd and nurture; discipline and challenge so their sons and daughters can flourish in this world as you have planned, and carry your presence to all they meet.

Father God, bless all fathers today; with wisdom, with patience, with courage; and above all with love for their children.

Father God, bless all children today; with openness to correction, with eagerness to learn, and above all with love for their fathers.

Father God bless all who are fatherless today.  Surround them with godly men to teach, affirm and guide; and above all to love with the love of a father, in your strength.  Amen.

–Author unknown

1164) Enemies

Editorial by Mark Galli, editor of Christianity Today magazine, June 12, 2016, at:  www.christianitytoday.com

——————————–

     We at Christianity Today are deeply grieved by the shooting in Orlando that killed 49 people.  Our heartfelt sympathies go out to friends and family of the victims.  In this case, the attack was targeted at one group, and so our prayers go up for gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities who now live with a heightened sense of fear.  We are glad to hear of so many Christians, from many theological persuasions, reaching out to comfort them in their grief.

     This weekend’s murders unfortunately remind us of the LGBT community’s place among the many groups who have been singled out for mass killing by hateful people.  Just five examples since 2000:

African Americans: The most recent attack we are remembering just this week:  On June 17, 2015, nine people were murdered at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Sikhs:  On August, 5, 2012, six people were killed and three injured at a Wisconsin Sikh temple.

Christians:  On December 9, 2007, two people were killed at a Youth With A Mission training center in Arvada, Colorado, and another two at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Jews:  Jews have been regularly subject to a number of murderous rampages since 2000, with fire bombings at synagogues in the Bronx and Syracuse, New York in October 2000, the LAX shooting at the El Al ticket counter on July 4, 2002, the Seattle Federation shooting on July 28, 2006, and the Overland Park, Kansas, attack on April 13, 2014.

Mexican Americans:  No, they have not been murderously attacked— but there was a serious plan afoot.  On May 1, 2007, five members of an anti-immigration militia in Birmingham, Alabama, were arrested for planning to mow down “Mexicans” with machine guns.

     And we’re only talking about what’s happening in the United States.  International attacks on specific groups are even more horrific.

     What are we to make of this hateful targeting?  To be sure, there is a matrix of political, social, and psychological issues that must be addressed with vigilance.  But while we attend to these matters, we Christians also recognize that this is at heart a spiritual battle with what the apostle Paul calls the “principalities and powers.”  And that gives us a clue as to what, in addition to our social service as citizens, our unique contribution can be at times like this:  PRAYER.

     We share this with other religionists, of course, but we practice it in our own way.  We don’t often see its effect, but Jesus has promised that prayer in his name makes a difference.  It’s times like these that it can be hard to pray, but it’s vital we take Jesus at his word on this matter.

     But there is one particular prayer that Jesus teaches and models.  I’m not enough of a world religion scholar to know if it is unique to Christianity, but it is remarkable part of Christian faith and life.  It’s the prayer of Stephen as he was stoned and of Jesus on the Cross:  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

     It is one way we obey Jesus’ command to love enemies, even murderous ones— whether they target us or those with whom we sympathize.

     This struck me afresh recently as I recited an Eastern Orthodox prayer of intercession.  In the litany of petitions, this one jumped out at me:  “Lord, we pray… for those who hate us and those who love us.”

     In the Orthodox tradition, this prayer is to be said every evening.  The Orthodox know something about enemies, having lived under repressive Muslim and Communist regimes for centuries.  So they know why this petition must become habitual for people of faith.

     I believe if this were a daily prayer for American Christians, it would help us to do that which does not come naturally to us:  loving our enemies— and the enemies of all those we love.  And it would shape us as a people to be Christ’s presence in a hateful and divided world— a world that needs to know of his presence more than ever.

****************************************************

Luke 23:34a  —  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Acts 7:59-60  —  While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he fell asleep.

Matthew 5:34-35  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

****************************************************

Heavenly Father, we pray for those who do not know you, and for those who hate you, and for those who hate us.  Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do; open their hearts to the work of your Spirit so that they may come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior; and may they then learn to love all people as Jesus did.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

1163) Directed by the Lord

From A Touch of His Love, by Al Rogness,  pages 44-5 

     “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.  Isn’t that fortunate?  And isn’t it fortunate that God sometimes annuls our ways, blocks us from doing something our way, and directs us into His way?

     God expects us to plan.  After all, why has he given us a mind?  But our best plans may not be good enough for him.  In his great love he may deny us the course we have laid out for ourselves.  Only in retrospect, after our best-laid plans lie in rubble and we have turned to something else, only then may we know the mystery of his ways and find them good.

     A bee flies into a room through an open window and buzzes around, frantically trying to escape.  It dashes its little body against the windowpanes.  You take a towel and try to guide it toward the open window, but the bee, thinking you are an enemy, dashes itself against the towel.  At last you maneuver it to the open window.  Suddenly free again, it darts out into the great, open spaces.

     God is sometimes like a man with a towel; and we, like the bee, mistaking the towel for an enemy, keep resisting his gentle push toward freedom and goodness.  What a sorry mankind we would be if God did not bother, if he let us dash ourselves against the bondage of our own limited plans, and never nudged us toward the abundant life he has designed for us.

     It could be that the loss of money, the loss of health, the loss of friends, etc., might be God’s greater wisdom becoming the open windows to something much better than we could ever dream.  Many people have been trapped by power and position and wealth and have no longer been free to rely on God, to turn to their brothers, and to know the simple joys of the kingdom.

     Thank God, he does meddle.  He does direct our steps.

**********************************************

Isaiah 55:8-9 — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Proverbs 20:24 — A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.  How then can anyone understand his own way?

Jeremiah 10:23-24 — I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.  Correct me, Lord, but only with justice– not in your anger, lest you reduce me to nothing.

***********************************************

Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.  Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.                                                

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978.

1162) Waiting for the Lord to Judge

The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey from Aesop’s Fables:

     A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market.  As they were walking along by the donkey’s side, a countryman passed them and said: “You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?”  So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way.  But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: “See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides.  ” So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself.  But they hadn’t gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other:  “Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along.”  Well, the man didn’t know what to do, but at last he took his boy up and set him on the donkey with him.  By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them.  The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.  The men said: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey with you and your hulking son?”  The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do.  They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey’s feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders.  They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole.  In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and because his fore-feet were tied together he was drowned.  “That will teach you,” said an old man who had followed them:  “Please all, and you will please none.”

—————————————-

From John Ploughman’s Pictures: More Plain of His Plain Talk for Plain People, Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1880:

     …He who will not go to bed until he pleases everybody will have to sit up a great many nights.  Many men and women, will mean many minds and many whims, and so if we please one we are sure to set another grumbling.  We had better wait till they are all of one mind before we mind them, or we shall be like the man who tried to hunt many hares all at once and caught none.  Besides, the fancies of men alter, and folly is never long pleased with the same thing, but changes its palate, and grows sick of what it once doted on.  Good Nature may be a great misfortune if we do not mix prudence with it.  “He that all men would please, shall never find ease.”  To live upon the praises of others is to feed on the air, for what is praise but the breath of men’s nostrils?  That’s poor stuff to make dinner of.  Change for the better as often as you like, but make sure it is better before you change.  There is nothing more insane than to try and please a thousand masters at once; one is quite enough.  If a man pleases God he may let the world wag its own way, and frown or flatter as it pleases.  What is there, after all, to frighten you in a fool’s grin, or in the frown of a poor mortal like yourself?  

     If it mattered at all what the world says of us, it would be some comfort that when a good man is buried people say, “He was not a bad fellow after all.”  When the man’s gone to heaven folks know their loss, and wonder why it was that they did not treat him better.  The way of pleasing men is hard, but blessed are they who please God.  He is not a free man who is afraid to think for himself, for if his thoughts are in bonds, the man is not free.  A true man does what he thinks to be right, whether the pigs grunt or the dogs howl.  Are you afraid to follow out your conscience because Tom, Jack, and Harry, or Mary and Betsy would laugh at you?  Then you are not at all like John Ploughman, who goes on his way whistling merrily, though many find fault with himself, and his plough, and his horses, and his harness, and his boots, and his coat, and his waistcoat, and his hat, and his head, and every hair on it.  John says it amuses them and doesn’t hurt him.  And you will never catch John or his boys carrying a donkey.

*********************************************

I Corinthians 4:1-5 — So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes.  He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.  At that time, each will receive his praise from God. 

***********************************************

A PRAYER FOR THE ABILITY TO SERVE WITH HUMILITY (by Martin Luther):

Dear Lord God, I thank you that you have directed me into this place of service in which I know I am able serve and please you.  I will serve here willingly, gladly comply with the requirements, and abandon myself to doing what needs to be done.  What harm is there if I am occasionally rebuked, when I am assured that this is an acceptable service to you?  You suffered so much for me, should not I gladly do and suffer something to your honor and service?  I would not rebel against being even a dog in your house, if only I may at least eat the crumbs that fall from your table.  You owe me nothing at all.  I depend on your grace and mercy.  Amen.

1161) My God, My Dog, and I

     

We read in the book of Proverbs, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”  If God’s Word can advise us to learn something about work from the hard-working ants, we should also be able to learn something about faith from that most faithful of all God’s creatures, the dog.
——————————-

CLUNY by William Croswell Doane in The Boston Evening Transcript:

I am quite sure he thinks that I am God–
Since He is God on whom each one depends
For life, and all things that His bounty sends–
My dear old dog, most constant of all friends;
Not quick to mind, but quicker far than I
To Him whom God I know and own; his eye
Deep brown and liquid, watches for my nod;
He is more patient underneath the rod
Than I, when God His wise corrections sends.
He looks love at me, deep as words e’er spake;
And from me never crumb or sup will take
But he wags thanks with his most vocal tail;
And when some crashing noise wakes all his fear
He is content and quiet if I’m near,
Secure that my protection will prevail;
So, faithful, mindful, thankful, trustful, he
Tells me what I unto my God should be.
———————————–
My goal is to be as good a person as my dog already thinks I am.  –unknown
———————————–

If you can start the day without caffeine… if you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains… if you can resist complaining, and boring people with your troubles… if you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it… if you can understand when your loved ones are to busy to give you any time… if you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you, when, through no fault of your own something goes wrong… if you can take criticism and blame without resentment… if you can ignore a friend’s limited education, and never correct them… if you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend… if you can face the world without lies and deceit… if you can conquer tension without medical help, relax without liquor, and sleep without the aid of drugs… if you can honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against any creed, color, religion, or politics…  then, you are probably the family dog.

–Author unknown

—————————–

Take two minutes to watch this wonderful little video, “GoD and DoG:”  

 ********************************

Proverbs 6:6-8  —  Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!  It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.

Zechariah 8:8  —  “I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

I Corinthians 4:2  —  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

***********************

     Lord, since Thou hast taken from me all that I had of Thee, yet of Thy grace leave me, I pray, the gift which every dog has by nature; that of being true to Thee in my distress, when I am deprived of all consolation.  Amen.
                             –Mechthild of Magdeburg, Cistercian nun and mystic (1210?-1285?)

1160) George Washington Carver

English: George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943...

 

       George Washington Carver (1864-1943) was one of the 20th century’s greatest scientists.  He rose from slavery to become one of the world’s most respected and honored men.  He devoted his life to understanding nature and applied his knowledge to the area of agriculture.  He is best known for developing crop-rotation methods for conserving nutrients in soil and discovering hundreds of new uses for crops.  Carver’s scientific discoveries included more than three hundred different products derived from the peanut, some one hundred from sweet potatoes, and seventy-five different uses for the pecan.  His accomplishments did much to challenge the then widespread belief that the black man was of inferior intelligence.

When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’  But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’  So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’  Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’  And he told me.”

Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.

How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and of the strong.  Because someday in your life you will have been all of these.

I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.

Learn to do common things uncommonly well; we must always keep in mind that anything that helps fill the dinner pail is valuable.

When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.

Where there is no vision, there is no hope.

Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.

We have become ninety-nine percent money mad.  The method of living at home modestly and within our income, laying a little by systematically for the proverbial rainy day which is due to come, can almost be listed among the lost arts.

It is not the style of clothes one wears, neither the kind of automobile one drives, nor the amount of money one has in the bank, that counts.  These mean nothing.  It is simply service that measures success.

     God and science were both areas of interest, not warring ideas in the mind of George Washington Carver.  He testified on many occasions that his faith in Jesus was the only mechanism by which he could effectively pursue and perform the art of science.  George Washington Carver became a Christian when he was ten years old. When he was still a young boy, he was not expected to live past his twenty-first birthday due to failing health.  He lived well past the age of twenty-one, and his beliefs deepened as a result.  Throughout his career, he always found friendship and safety in the fellowship of other Christians.  Dr. Carver viewed faith in Jesus as a means of destroying both barriers of racial disharmony and social stratification.  He was as concerned with his students’ character development as he was with their intellectual development.  He even compiled a list of eight cardinal virtues for his students to emulate and strive toward:

· Be clean both inside and out.
· Neither look up to the rich nor down on the poor.
· Lose, if need be, without squealing.
· Win without bragging.
· Always be considerate of women, children, and older people.
· Be too brave to lie.
· Be too generous to cheat.
· Take your share of the world and let others take theirs.

***************************

James 2:1-4 — My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James 2:8-9 — If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.  But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

Colossians 3:17 — 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. 

**************************
A MORNING PRAYER:  Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –Book of Common Prayer

1159) Confessing Christ (b)

The following was adapted from a 2010 sermon by Lutheran seminary professor and pastor Walter Sundberg.

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

     (…continued)    Story #2)  Speaking of golf, Tiger Woods is not having a good year (remember, this was in 2010).  For all his talent and all his money, he was not able to have a peaceful time at home last Thanksgiving Eve with his wife, his two little children, his mother, and his mother-in-law.  In the middle of the night he tried to escape, and crashed his truck into a tree.  Then, his whole life came crashing down.  He is now in a world of hurt and shame, of his own making, and his whole family is likewise stricken.

     On a FOX news program a few weeks ago, they took up the topic of Tiger Woods and his predicament, and what it means for golf and advertisers and so on.  Everyone was astounded at what veteran commentator Brit Hume had to say.  Hume said that he heard Woods was a Buddhist, the faith of his mother.  Then Hume said that Tiger was in need of the power of forgiveness and redemption such as he never needed before, so that he could pick up the pieces and get his life back again.  Hume went on to say that Buddhism would not be of much help to him on that; and then, on a national news program, Hume suggested that Tiger Woods turn to Jesus Christ, in whom he could find what he needs— the forgiveness of sins and a new life.  

     You could have heard a pin drop in that studio.  In the next days, other commentators on other programs and stations, and newspaper columnists all over the country, went ballistic.  They were all over Brit Hume for being inappropriate, for insulting Buddhism, and for trying, on television, to win converts.

     Hume himself became the story, and when he was interviewed he said, “I knew feathers would be ruffled.  But I did not insult Buddhism.  The simple fact is Buddhism is a different sort of religion and offers nothing in the line of forgiveness from above.  What Tiger Woods needs is to be redeemed.  His pain must be unbearable.  He needs a power from another world, a spiritual power that breaks into his life.  He needs the power of Jesus Christ.”

     The big rival to Fox news is MSNBC.  The host of their morning program is Joe Scarborough, a former congressman.  On his show, everyone was criticizing Hume, describing how offended they all were, and letting everyone know that they were appalled by such bad manners.  “Religion is a private matter,” one said.  “You can’t use a secular show to try and get across religious propaganda” (though they all would probably agree you can use any television program for anti-religious propaganda, ridiculing religion and those who believe in it).  Anyway, this trashing of Brit Hume went on for a while, and then Joe Scarborough looked into the camera and said, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

     Once again, you could have heard a pin drop.  When you confess Jesus Christ with your mouth, out loud, it has an impact.

     Item #3)  We should all be personally and profoundly concerned as to what this impact is.  

     There was a study done in 1994 by three sociologists on the religion of Baby Boomers, those born between the years of 1946 and 1964.  The sample group for this study was people who were confirmed in the Presbyterian Church, and who had kept their membership in that church.

     Those they studied were from two basic groups on the matter of religious practice.  In the first group were the committed.  They attended church regularly, they supported their congregation financially in a significant way, and, they spoke about the faith with their children at home.  Their children tended to stay a part of the church.

     The second group were what they called the casuals.  These people attended church occasionally, they did not support the church in any serious way, and they did not talk about the faith with their children at home.  Their children tended to drift away from the church.

     You cannot have a healthy congregation made up of casuals.  For a congregation to live and breathe and survive, you need the committed.  Unfortunately, in this study 68% of those surveyed were casual and not committed.

     Sociologists always look for what they call a ‘predictor,’ something that will predict a given behavior in those people being studied.  They found in this study a very clear predictor.  There was one factor that had a very high correlation with the desired outcome.

     If those studied answered this one question in a particular way, you could pretty well tell how they would behave.  That question concerned a basic article of faith: “Do you believe that salvation is by Christ alone?”

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

     Remember, Acts 4:12:  “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

     The key question on the survey was, “Do you believe that salvation is by Christ alone?”

     For the most part, those who said yes, who made this confession, were committed.  Those who said no, who did not make this confession, were casual.  

     Where are you at?  What confession do you make?

————————————–

Vanishing Boundaries:  The Religion of Mainline Protestant Baby Boomers, by Dean R. Hoge, Benton Johnson, and Donald Luidens, 1994, Westminster/John Knox Press.

********************************************************

II Corinthians 9:13  —  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

John 14:6  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Acts 4:12  —  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

********************************************************

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.

–The Apostles’ Creed

1158) Confessing Christ (a)

The following was adapted from a 2010 sermon by Lutheran seminary professor and pastor Walter Sundberg.

————————-

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

     Confess with your mouth, it says.  To ‘confess’ means to speak out loud something that is deep within your heart.  That something you confess may be something that you would rather hide; a sin, for example, something you’ve done wrong that makes you ashamed.  It may be something important that you feel in your innermost being; saying words on which much in your life will depend, for example, “I love you.”  It may be something so fundamental that it forms your identity, grounds your hope and meaning, and motivates your life; such as, “I believe in money.”

     Confession is a big deal.  The Holy Bible commands that we make confession unto God.  It tells us to do so because confession is serious business– so serious that it comes with rules.  First of all, we are to confess our sins to God.  I John 1: 8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  We also confess in the Lord’s prayer that we are sinners, when we ask that God “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

     Second, God also asks us to confess our love to him.  Jesus asks us as he asked St. Peter, “Do you love me?”  Jesus wants our response, both word and deed.

     Third, the Bible says God wants us to confess our faith in the Risen Lord Jesus, as it says in Romans 10:9:  “If you believe in you heart that Jesus is Lord, and confess with your mouth that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  And the way we are to confess is to speak the name of Jesus Christ.  Acts 4:12 says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

     What happens when we confess Jesus Christ not only in our hearts, but with our mouth?  Sundberg had three stories.

     Story #1) When he was a teenager in New Jersey, Walter Sundberg’s pastor was Carl Shea, a man who had a great influence on Sundberg.  Sundberg was a friend of the pastor’s sons, so he knew the family well.  Pastor Shea was a big man, well-built and athletic, and he loved to go golfing with his three sons.  But his sons at first did not always like going golfing with their father.  The boys loved to play golf, but their dad could never just play golf.  Along with the golf, Carl Shea had an annoying habit that drove them all crazy.  Every time another golfer within hearing distance took the Lord’s name in vain, Carl would go over and have a talk with him.  If the golfer missed an easy putt or sliced the ball into the woods, and then exclaimed loudly “Jesus Christ!,” Carl would walk over, set his club down, put out his huge hand for a friendly handshake, and say, “Jesus Christ, you say; he is a good friend of mine.  Do know him too?”

     Sundberg said that at first, the sons were mortified by this.  You know how it is, parents are always embarrassing their teenage kids.  But the old man didn’t care.  He kept it up.  After a while, the boys had to admire him for it.  They came to enjoy seeing the dumbfounded looks on the guys’ faces as this big, crazy man would come up to them, shake their hand, and kindly start telling them about Jesus, whose name the angry golfer had just used in vain.

      Word of this soon spread to the grounds crew and the clubhouse, and everyone there enjoyed it.  It became a part of the folklore of the course, and anyone who ever met Carl Shea on the green or in the clubhouse never forgot him.

    Were there any conversions out there on the course?  Perhaps not.  But the sacred name of Jesus was spoken on the lips of one who loved him and confessed to being his friend, and seeds were planted.  (continued…)

**************************************************************

Philippians 1:18  —  What does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.

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

I John 1: 8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Acts 4:12  —   Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

**************************************************************

Use me, my Savior, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, you may require.  Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with your grace.  Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with your love.  Take my heart for your abode; my mouth to spread abroad the glory of your name; my love and all my powers, for the advancement of your believing people.  Never allow the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate; so that at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, “Jesus needs me, I am his.”  Amen.

–Dwight L. Moody  (1837-1899)

1157) Interruptions

     It is interesting see what Jesus does when he is around death.  We will consider three accounts from the Gospels.  To more fully comprehend the message of these old familiar stories, we’ll try to imagine what it would be like to have Jesus here with us, in similar situations.

     The first story is the story of the death of Jairus’ daughter.  Jairus was a ruler in the synagogue– a preacher we might say, or perhaps a church bureaucrat– and he had a very ill daughter.  He had heard that Jesus– this unorthodox, unofficial country preacher– had healing powers.  Jairus was from the official, organized, institutionalized, established church.  Jesus was an unordained, uncalled, uncredentialed, wandering preacher.  I, like Jairus, am a called, ordained, credentialed pastor in the organized institutional church, and I’m more than a little suspicious of the free-floating, unattached, unordained type.  Some of them get TV shows now, and they have people jumping up out of their wheelchairs by the dozen; but I have my doubts about the whole business.  And that is probably what Jesus looked like to Jairus.  So I doubt if Jairus would have called Jesus for any other reason, except now his daughter was really sick and near death.  He did not want to lose her, and he had tried everything else; so finally Jairus called for Jesus.

     Jesus did agree to come, but it was too late.  The little girl had just died.  The body was still in the house and the family was grief-stricken.  I have been in many of those situations.  I am called to go into a home or a hospital room, and the body is still there on a bed or in a chair or on the floor, and lifelong relationships have just ended, and lives are shattered, and it is the worst feeling in the world.  It is a time to be sad and somber and quiet.  A few words of Scripture and a prayer can be said, but it is not the time for too many words.  I know very well the mood in the house of Jairus that day.

     With that in mind, I can understand how shocking the words of Jesus must have been.  He wasn’t quiet, he didn’t shake anyone’s hand, and he didn’t express his heartfelt sympathy to anyone.  Rather, he came in, interrupted the gloom, and took charge.  First, Jesus said to the father, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”  Then he said to everyone else, “Stop all your wailing and crying.  She’s not dead; she is only sleeping.”  He said that before he even went to her room, so the people laughed at him.  They were probably also angry.  How rude of this man to give false hope to this poor family!  He just arrived there and did not know anything about the girl’s condition.  Jesus told them all to get out of the house.  It was and outrageous way to act in such a situation.  But then Jesus went up to the little girl’s room, took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up,” and she did.  Her spirit returned to her, she got up, and she was alive and well.  Jesus turned that place of mournful death into a scene of joyous life.

     The second story is the story of the widow’s son in the village of Nain.  Again, imagine the scene.  Jesus and his followers, a large group, are coming into town.  A funeral procession, another large group, is coming out of town.  But Jesus and his disciples do not politely step aside.  Jesus, a stranger to these people from Nain, barges into the middle of the group and goes up to the casket.

     I have been in many funeral processions, and I have never been interrupted like that.  People make way for funeral processions.  Policeman stop cars at intersections so the procession can go through uninterrupted.  The hearse leads the way, all headlights are on, and everyone is driving slow.  Others on the road are respectful and stay clear.

     When we get to the cemetery, the pall bearers lift the casket out of the hearse and carry it to the grave-site.  Imagine at that point seeing a large group of bearded men coming across the lawn.  The leader of this group of strangers steps in ahead of the pall bearers and tells them to stop and set the casket down, and then this stranger tells the funeral director to open the cover.  That would be an outrageous interruption, but that is what Jesus did in this story.  With the casket cover open, the people then see Jesus looking in and talking to the dead man.  Jesus said, “Young man, get up!”  Immediately the young man got up and began to talk.  Again, Jesus faced death with confidence and authority, and backed up his bold words with decisive action, turning the hopelessness of death into life.

The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain, James Tissot (1836-1902)

     In the first story, the girl had just died.  In the second story, the dead man was being carried to the cemetery.  In the third story Lazarus had been dead and buried for four days.  Again, picture yourself in the story.  Your loved one has died.  A close friend of the family was out of town and unable to make it to the funeral.  Now, four days later, the friend comes to express his sympathy.  He asks to be taken to the cemetery, perhaps to put some flowers on the grave.  But he isn’t carrying any flowers, and when he gets to the grave-site, he says, “Dig up the body.”  What?  In Jesus’ day, dead bodies were put into caves with large stones in front, and so in that context Jesus said, “Take away the stone;” but the command was no less shocking.  “Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “we can’t do that.  By this time there will be a bad odor for he has been in there for four days.”  Jesus told Martha to just believe in Him.  Then Jesus gave another command, this time to the dead man.  “Lazarus, come out,” he said, and again, a dead body came back to life.

     Jesus was here to interrupt death’s rude interruption.

***************************************

The raising of the daughter of Jairus:  Mark 5:21-24, 35-42 and Luke 8:41-42, 49-56.

The raising of the widow’s son in Nain:  Luke 7:11-15.

The raising of Lazarus:  John 11:1-44.

***************************************

Lord Jesus, you have overcome death and brought life and immortality to light.  Give us grace so to believe in you, that we may not fear death nor dread the grave.  Help us joyfully await the time when, by your almighty power, our frail bodies will be fashioned like your glorified body.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship: Occasional Services, Augsburg, 1978, (#474)