1207) “The Woman’s Power” (part two of two)

Mary Slessor and her family

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     (…continued)  Life was very difficult up country— especially during the first months, as entries in her diary indicate:

“In the forenoon I was left alone with the mud and the rain and the general wretchedness, with a gap round the window frame and more round the doorway.  I looked on helplessly day after day at the rain pouring down on the boxes, bedding, and everything…  I am living in a single apartment with a mud floor and that not in the best condition.  Moreover it is shared by three boys and two girls and we are crowded in on every side by men, women, children, goats, dogs, fowls, rats and cats, all going and coming indiscriminately.”

     For the next quarter of a century and more, Slessor would continue to pioneer missions in areas in which no white man had been able to survive.  Her reputation as a peacemaker spread to outlying districts, and soon she was acting as a judge for the whole region.  In 1892 she became the first vice-consul to Okoyong, a government position she held for many years.  In that capacity she acted as a judge and presided over court cases involving disputes over land, debts, family matters, and the like.  Her methods were unconventional by British standards (often refusing to act solely on the evidence before her if she personally was aware of other factors), but they were well suited to African society.

     Slessor was very isolated from outsiders during much of her missions career, but in 1893, she enjoyed a visit from Mary Kingsley, a British journalist.  Though Kingsley was not a believer, she greatly admired her missionary hostess.  Of Slessor, she wrote:

“This very wonderful lady has been eighteen years in Calabar; for the last six or seven living entirely alone, as far as white folks go, in a clearing in the forest near one of the principal villages of the Okoyong district, and ruling as a veritable white chief over the entire district.  Her great abilities, both physical and intellectual, have given her among the savage tribe a unique position, and won her, from white and black who know her, a profound esteem.  Her knowledge of the native, his language, his ways of thought, his diseases, his difficulties, and all that is his, is extraordinary, and the amount of good she has done, no man can fully estimate.  Okoyong, when she went there alone, was given, as most of the surrounding districts still are, to killing at funerals, ordeal by poison, and perpetual wars.  Many of these evil customs she has stamped out.  Miss Slessor stands alone.”

     Slessor’s life as a pioneer missionary was a lonely one, but she occasionally traveled back to England or to Duke Town.  During one of her sick leaves to the coast she met Charles Morrison, a missionary teacher who was much younger than she was.  Their friendship grew and Slessor accepted his marriage proposal, with the provision that he would work with her in Okoyong.  The marriage, however, never took place.  His health did not even permit him to remain in Duke Town, and, for her, missionary service came before personal relationships.

     She was not really suited for marriage anyway.  Her living habits and daily routine were so haphazard that she was probably better off by herself.  Single women had tried to live with her, but usually without success.  She was careless about hygiene, and her mud huts were infested with roaches, rats, and ants.  Meals, school hours, and church services were irregular— all much more suited to Africans than to time-oriented Europeans.  Clothing, too, was a matter of little concern for her.  She soon discovered that the modest tightly fitted long dresses of Victorian England were not suited to life in an African rain forest.  Instead, she wore simple cotton garments.

     Though Slessor often failed to take the most basic health precautions and “lived native,” the fact is that she outlived most of her fellow missionaries who were so careful about health and hygiene.  Nevertheless, she did suffer recurring attacks of malaria, and she often endured painful boils that appeared on her face and head, sometimes resulting in baldness.  At times, however, she was surprisingly healthy and robust for a middle-aged woman.  Her many children kept her young and happy, and she could heartily say that she was “a witness to the perfect joy and satisfaction of a single life.”

     Although she was highly respected as a judge and civic leader, she reported few conversions.  She viewed her work as preparatory and was not unduly anxious about her lack of converts.  She organized schools, taught practical skills, and established trade routes, all in preparation for others to follow.  In 1903, near the end of her term at Okoyong, the first baptism service was held (with seven of the eleven children baptized being her own), and a church was organized with seven charter members.

     In 1904, at the age of fifty-five, she moved on from Okoyong with her seven children to do pioneer work in Itu and other remote areas.  Here she encountered great success with the Ibo people.  Janie, her oldest adopted daughter, was now a valuable assistant in the work, and another woman missionary was able to take over the work at Okoyong.  For the remaining decade of her life, she continued in this work pioneer work while others followed behind her— their ministry made easier by her pioneering efforts.  In 1915, nearly forty years after coming to Africa, she died at the age of sixty-six in her mud hut.

     Today she continues to be remembered in Nigeria as the great Mother Slessor.

Mary Slessor, honored in Scotland

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By Ruth Tucker at:  www.womenmissionaries.blogspot.com/p/mary-slessor.html

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QUOTES FROM MARY SLESSOR:

In measuring the woman’s power, you have evidently forgotten to take into account the power of the woman’s God.  I shall go on.

Lord, the task is impossible for me, but not for Thee.  Lead the way and I will follow.

Christ sent me to preach the Gospel and He will look after the results.

It would be worthwhile to die, if thereby a soul could be born again.

Christ never was in a hurry.  There was no rushing forward, no anticipating, no  fretting over what might be.  Each day’s duties were done as each day brought them, and the rest was left with God.

Oh Lord, I thank Thee that I can bring these people the Word.  But Lord, there are other villages where no white man has gone.  They need Jesus, too.  Help me to reach them.

Blessed is the man and woman who is able to serve cheerfully in the second rank.  It is a big test.

Prayer is the greatest power God has put into our hands for service.  Praying is harder than doing– at least I find it so– but the dynamic lies that way to advance the Kingdom.

If you are inclined to pray for a missionary, do it at once, wherever you are.

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Psalm 28:7a  —  The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.

Psalm 118:7a  —  The Lord is with me; he is my helper.

Hebrews 13:5b-6  —  God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”

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O Lord, bestow thy grace upon all missionaries, that by them Christ may be lifted up in every land and all people drawn to him.  In times of loneliness and weariness cheer them with thy presence; in disappointment give them patience; in the press of daily obligations keep their spirits fresh; in difficulties and dangers uphold and protect them; in success keep them humble of heart; in failure strengthen them to persevere.  Make them to be joyful in spirit, radiant in life, steadfast in faith, zealous in service, and at all times deepen in them the sense of dependence upon thee and give them peace in thy service; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–source lost

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1206) “The Woman’s Power” (part one of two)

“In measuring the woman’s power, you have evidently forgotten to take into account the power of the woman’s God.  I shall go on.”

–Mary Slessor  (1848-1915)

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     The exploration and missionary work of David Livingstone and Henry Stanley inspired scores of others to embark on Africa— women as well as men.  Most of the women, not surprisingly, envisioned their ministry sheltered within the confines of an established mission station.  Exploration and pioneer work was not even an option for a single female missionary— not until Mary Slessor arrived on the scene.

     The story of Mary Slessor, as much as the life of any missionary in modern history, has been romanticized almost beyond recognition.  The image of her as a Victorian lady dressed in high-necked, ankle-length flowing dresses, escorted by tribal warriors through the African rain forests, is far removed from the reality of the barefooted, scantily clad, red-haired, working-class woman, who lived African-style in a mud hovel, her face at times covered with boils, and often without her false teeth.  Yet, her success as a missionary pioneer was amazing, and the oneness she felt for the Africans has been equaled by few.  She held the distinction of being the first woman vice-consul in the British Empire, but the greatest tribute she ever received was paid to her before her death by fellow missionaries who knew her well and, in spite of her faults and eccentricities, honored her as a great woman of God.

     Mary Mitchell Slessor, the second of seven children, was born in Scotland in 1848.  Her childhood was marred by poverty and family strife, due largely to the sporadic work habits of her alcoholic father, who had been known to throw her out into the streets alone at night after he had come home drunk.  At age eleven, she began working alongside her mother at the textile mills as a half-timer while she continued on in her schooling.  By the time she reached fourteen she was working ten-hour days, and for the next thirteen years she was the primary wage earner in the family.

     Though she later referred to herself as a “wild lassie,” there was little time or opportunity for leisure in the crowded, polluted working-class district where her family lived.  Church activities, however, offered a fulfilling outlet from her miserable home life.  She taught Sunday school, and when she was in her early twenties she working with the Queen Street Mission.  Here, she confronted street gangs that tried to break up her open-air meetings in the blighted neighborhoods of Dundee— neighborhoods that served as a training ground for her work in Africa.

     Since early childhood, she had been deeply interested in overseas missions— particularly the Calabar Mission, established two years before her birth.  Her missionary-minded mother hoped her only living son, John, would become a missionary, but his death shattered her dreams.  But the tragedy opened the way for Mary to escape the mills and to take her brother’s place.  The Calabar Mission had always made room for women. 

     In 1875 Slessor applied to and was accepted by the Mission, and in the summer of 1876, at the age of twenty-seven, she sailed for Calabar (located in present-day Nigeria), long known for its slave trade and deadly environment.  Her earliest years in Africa were spent at Duke Town, where she taught in a mission school and spent time in the nearby villages.  But she was dissatisfied with her assignment, never feeling at ease with the social niceties and ample lifestyle of the missionary families comfortably stationed at Duke Town.  Life was too routine.  Only a month after her arrival she had written, “One does need a special grace to enable one to sit still.  It is so difficult to wait.”  Her heart was set on doing pioneer work in the interior, but for that “privilege” she would have to wait.

     After less than three years in Africa and weakened by several attacks of malaria (and many more of homesickness), Slessor was allowed a furlough to regain her strength and reunite with her family.  She returned to Africa refreshed and excited about her new assignment at Old Town, three miles further inland along the Calabar River.  Here she was free to work by herself and to maintain her own lifestyle— living in a mud hut and eating native food that allowed her to send most of her mission salary to her family back home.  No longer was her work routine.  She supervised schools, dispensed medication, mediated disputes, and mothered unwanted children (children deemed demonic and rejected by their families).  On Sundays she became a circuit preacher, trudging miles through the jungle from village to village, sharing the gospel with those who would listen.

     Evangelism in Calabar was a slow and tedious process.  Witchcraft and spiritism abounded.  Cruel tribal customs were embedded in tradition and almost impossible to eradicate.  One of the most heartrending of these customs decreed that a twin birth was a curse.  In many cases both babies were killed, and the mother was exiled to an area reserved for outcasts.  Slessor not only rescued twins and ministered to their mothers, but also fought the perpetrators, sometimes risking her own life.  But after three years she was once again too ill to remain in Africa.

     On her second visit home she was accompanied by Janie, a baby girl she had rescued from death.  She and Janie were a sensation— so much so that the mission committee extended her furlough.  She was also detained by her sickly mother and sister.  In 1885, after nearly three years’ leave, she returned to Africa, determined to penetrate further into the interior. 

     Soon after she returned, Slessor received word of her mother’s death, and three months after that of her sister’s.  Another sister had died during her furlough, and now she was left alone with no close ties to her homeland.  She was despondent and almost overcome with loneliness:  “There is no one to write and tell all my stories and troubles and nonsense to.”  But along with the loneliness and sorrow came a sense of freedom:  “Heaven is now nearer to me than Britain, and no one will be anxious about me if I go up-country.”  Always restless, she was convinced that her calling was to preach in ever more remote areas

     “Up-country” to Slessor meant Okoyong, a remote area that had claimed the lives of other missionaries who had dared to penetrate its borders.  Sending a single woman to that region was considered by many to be an exercise in insanity, but she was determined to go and would not be dissuaded.  After visiting the area a number of times with other missionaries, she was convinced that such work was best accomplished by women, who, she believed, were less threatening to unreached tribes than men.  So in August of 1888, with the assistance of her friend, King Eyo of Old Town, she was on her way north.  (continued…)   

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Isaiah 45:22, 23b  —  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other…  Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”

Acts 1:8  —  (Jesus said), “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Romans 10:17 -18  —  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.  But I ask:  Did they not hear?  Of course they did:  “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

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O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitudes who, though created in thine image, they have not known thee, nor the dying of thy Son; and grant that by the prayers and labors of thy holy church they may be delivered from all superstition and unbelief and brought to worship thee; through him who thou hast sent to be the resurrection and the life to all men, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Francis Xavier, Missionary to India, Japan, and Borneo (1506-1552)

1205) God Moves in a Mysterious Way

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     In 1773, English poet and hymn-writer William Cowper experienced a nervous breakdown.  He struggled with mental illness and despondency all his life, and now his mind was telling him that he was condemned to hell for all of eternity.  In his mental sickness he thought God was telling him to take his own life, so he called a taxi and asked to be taken to the Thames River where he intended to end it all.  A thick fog fell about them that evening and the taxi driver drove about lost until he finally stopped to allow Cowper out.  When Cowper stepped out of the taxi he found himself standing at his own doorstep.  He believed God had sent the fog to spare him. Sometime later he wrote the hymn that contains the phrase so often used by Christians today who seek to understand the ways of God:  God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.

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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.”

Ecclesiastes 11:5  —  As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.

I Corinthians 1:25  —  The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

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GOD MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY by William Cowper  (1731-1800); listen at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0AgENR1FhM

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain.
God is His own interpreter and He will make it plain.

God moves in a mysterious way that’s often not my own.
His wisdom guides each path I take, His mercy leads me home.
Help me to trust when I don’t understand
Grant me the peace of resting in your plan.

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace.
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

1204) Steve Jobs’ Question for His Pastor (b)

    (…continued)   Now, back to Steve Jobs.  Jobs gave Buddhism credit for helping him focus his life and simplify his approach to technology, two of the things that led to his incredible success.  He was an intensely focused problem solver and innovator, and, his goal was to make his very complex products simple to use.

     But what did Buddhism do for Steve Jobs’ concern for his fellow human beings?  Remember, he walked away from Christianity, disappointed with God’s lack of concern for starving children in Africa.  But Jobs’ Buddhist beliefs provided little incentive for him to do anything about the suffering of others.  He was not known for his generosity.  Bill Gates has established a foundation to help the needy of the world in a variety of ways, has donated tens of billions of dollars to it, and invited other billionaires to join him in the effort.  Warren Buffet, among many others, has joined with Gates.  But Steve Jobs refused.  The company Jobs helped start, Apple, does some significant work by sharing a percentage of its profits with charities, but it seems Jobs did not give away very much of his own vast personal wealth to help the starving, or anyone else in the world.

     I am reminded of a comment I heard many years ago about world hunger by Sam Kinison.  Kinison was a stand-up comedian who died in a car accident in 1992 at the age of 38.  I did not like his humor.  He was crude, vulgar, abrasive, and went out of his way to ridicule religious faith.  He was not the kind of person I ever expected to be quoting in a meditation.  But he did say one thing that struck me with its practical honesty and truth.  He referred to a photograph of a starving child in Africa (probably much like the one Steve Jobs saw), and he said in his loud and abrasive way, “Why is that guy taking a picture?  Why doesn’t he brush the flies off that poor kid’s face and give him a sandwich?”

     Good question.  In the same way we could ask:  “Why spend our time discussing the theological problem of hunger; why not just feed the hungry?”  Sam Kinison’s question leads us back Salee’s question.  Salee was frustrated with his Buddhist religion that sought only to teach the individual how to transcend his or her own suffering.  Salee wanted to get to know the people who were handing out the sandwiches.  He wanted to find out what they believed in.

     Salee learned that Christians feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and we do so because our Lord Jesus has commanded it.  Sam Kinison wondered why the photographer didn’t just give the child a sandwich.  That is what Christians are always doing, all over the world, through international relief organizations and in each congregation.  In my own congregation we, in fact, do make sandwiches, hundreds of them, one night a month.  The boxes of sandwiches are then picked up and handed out to the homeless and hungry on the streets of Minneapolis that very night.  We also host and manage the local food shelf, offer a free clothing day each week, and help support an orphanage and school in Haiti.  Our congregation is not unique.  This is what Christians do.

     Of course, we also spend some time looking at what God’s Word says about the problem of evil and suffering.  God has told us a few things about that, some things that might have helped Steve Jobs when he was 13 years old if he would have stayed around long enough to ask a few more questions.  But Christians don’t just search for abstract answers.  We try to be a part of the answer.  All of those sandwich makers, clothes sorters, and contributors in our congregation are like Steve Jobs in that they don’t know either why children have to suffer in a world made by a loving God.  But we do what we can, and one by one, people are fed and clothed in the name of Jesus.

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Matthew 25:34-40  —  (Jesus said), “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

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John 21:15b  —  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

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We beg you, Lord, to help and defend us.  Deliver the oppressed, pity the insignificant, raise the fallen, show yourself to the needy, heal the sick, bring back those who have gone astray, feed the hungry, lift up the weak, and take off the chains of those in bondage.  May every nation come to know that you alone are God, that Jesus Christ is your Son, and that we are your people, the sheep of your pasture.  Amen.

–St. Clement of Rome, First century A. D.

1203) Steve Jobs’ Question for His Pastor (a)

Steve Jobs  (1955-2011)

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     Steve Jobs was truly one of the greatest geniuses the world has ever known.  He has been called the Henry Ford of our time.  Not only was he a brilliant inventor and innovator, he was also an incredible businessman, marketer, and leader.  Along with a couple friends, he started the Apple Computer Company in his parents’ garage in 1976.  Nine years later, after a falling out with Apple’s Board of Directors, Jobs left Apple and became a pioneer in computer generated animated movies.  He was co-founder Pixar, the film company that has produced such popular films as Finding Nemo, Cars, Up, Toy Story 1,2,&3, and many more.  In 1996, Apple was near bankruptcy and the Board asked Jobs to come back.  Jobs did go back, turned the company around, and by 2011 Apple was the most valuable company in the world. Jobs had engineered what has been called the biggest comeback in business history.  Steve Jobs was involved in the development of the iMac, iTunes, iPhone, iPod, iPad, and much more.  By the time he died in 2011 at the age of 56, he had amassed a personal fortune of eight billion dollars.

     As a boy, Steve Jobs attended a Lutheran church with his parents.  At age 13 he asked his pastor, “Does God know everything?”  The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.”  Jobs then showed his pastor a Life magazine cover depicting starving children in Africa and asked, “Does God know about this?”  The pastor answered, “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”  Jobs then declared that he did not want to worship such a God, walked out of the church, and never went back.

     For Steve Jobs, that unanswered question revealed an open and shut case against God.  What else is there to consider?  What kind of God would allow innocent children to starve to death?  So Jobs walked out and, being the brilliant man that he was, the story could raise doubts about God in the minds of many others.  But let’s continue to follow the story.

     Where did Steve Jobs go, spiritually, after he walked out of church?  Well, like a lot of young people, he went nowhere for a long time.  But then during a time of personal crisis, he turned to Buddhism, which he said became a huge influence in his life.  Remember, Steve Jobs turned away from Christianity because he believed it had an inadequate response to the problem of suffering.  Therefore, it is only fair to ask what Buddhism has to say about suffering.

     First of all, belief in God is optional for a Buddhist.  Buddhism is more of a philosophical system and way of life, than a religion that worships a supreme being.  Therefore, there is not necessarily a God to be disappointed in.  But even a philosophical system has to deal with suffering.  So what does Buddhism have to say about that?

     Well, it turns out that the question of suffering is at the very center of this religion.  There is at the core of Buddhism four noble truths:  #1– We all suffer; #2– Suffering is caused by desire; #3– Get rid of your desires and you get rid of suffering; and #4– The path to enlightenment has as its goal to learn how to get rid of desire.  So how then should we respond to suffering?  By living without having any desires, and transcending all desire.

     There is much truth in this.  Let’s say you are depressed because you cannot afford the new boat you have been wanting.  Well, abandon the desire, forget the boat, be satisfied with what you have, and you won’t be depressed about it anymore.  Right?  This can work quite well for many things.

     But what would a Buddhist say to the starving child?  Same thing.  They would say, “Transcend your desire for food.  Your problem is not that you don’t have food.  Your problem is your desire for something you cannot have.  Get rid of that desire, and you won’t be frustrated.”

     “Well,” says the child, “then I will die.”  “Yes,” says the Buddhist, “so now your problem is that you desire to live.  Get over your desire to live, and you will not suffer.”

     “Yes,” says the child, “but it hurts to be hungry.”  “Well now,” says Buddhism, “your desire is to be without pain.  You must transcend that desire too.  So, just get rid of all your desires, and then you will not suffer.”

     Got that?  The fourth of the noble truths tells you how to do that, and that can indeed lead to a real inner peace and strength.  Desire nothing and expect nothing, and you will be able to handle anything.  

     This is a huge oversimplification, of course, but it is the gist of it, and this does have significant real life consequences.  One of the results of that kind of thinking is that Buddhists are not very interested in relieving the suffering of their fellow human beings.  After all, they also believe in ‘karma,’ which means that the bad things that happen to someone are the inevitable result of the bad things they have done– so why should anyone interfere with law of the universe by relieving suffering that is deserved?

     I once knew a Cambodian refugee named Salee.  Salee was a young man when Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia in 1975.  Pol Pot was a ruthless tyrant, and over the next four years, two million Cambodians were dead as the result of his rule, many of them murdered in the infamous ‘killing fields.’  Salee, simply because he was from the educated class, was arrested and marched out of the city into one of these killing fields.  There he, along with a thousand other people, were shot and left for dead.  Salee was severely wounded, but survived. He laid quietly among the hundreds of dead bodies until darkness, and then crept away.  He was a medical student and knew how to treat and bandage his wounds.  He then made his way to a refugee camp in Thailand, and after living there two years, was able to come to the United States.

     Salee is a Christian, one of only a few in Cambodia.  Cambodia is 95% Buddhist, the faith in which Salee was raised.  I asked him how he came to believe in Jesus.  He said that even before the civil war there was much hunger and suffering in Cambodia.  But the poor and suffering people received no help from the government, and they recieved no help from the Buddhists.  

     Salee did notice, however, that American Christian missionaries were helping everyone they could, in whatever ways they we able.  Salee asked himself, “Why do these Christians come here from the other side of the world to help my people, when my people do not even help their own neighbors?”  He went into one of the mission churches to find out.  The pastor told him about Jesus, about the compassion Jesus had for the poor and suffering, and how Jesus told his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Salee said he learned none of that from Buddhism.  Salee wanted to know more about Jesus.  Before long, Saly came to believe in Jesus as the Son of God, Savior of the world.  I met him at a Ministry Training School for immigrants that I was volunteering at.  Salee’s goal there was to learn enough about Christianity to go back to Cambodia as a missionary to his own people.

     It is interesting to note that the question which led Saly out of Buddhism and into Christianity, is very similar to the question that led Steve Jobs out of Christianity and eventually toward Buddhism.  Both wondered about the problem of hunger.  Steve Jobs wondered how God could allow it.  Salee wanted to find out about the God that inspired people to do something about it.  (continued…)

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

Galatians 5:14  —  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Matthew 10:42a  —  (Jesus said), ” If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

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 O Lord Jesus Christ, who when on earth was always occupied by your Father’s business:  grant that we may not grow weary in well-doing, and give us the grace to do all in your name.  Amen. 

1202) Land of the Free (c)

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     (…continued)  Europe today has total religious freedom, but very little religious conviction anymore.  Muslim nations have strong religious convictions, but very little sense of religious freedom.  The First Amendment has helped the United States maintain this delicate balance, but there are dangers now as there always has been.

     First of all, there are those who despise religious faith, and want to use the First Amendment to discourage any and all religious expression or influence.  We are seeing more and more of that these days.  There are many who celebrate the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage not only because it allows gay marriages, but also because they believe it will lead to further restriction on the influence of religion in our society.    But restricting this positive and necessary influence on our society is something we, as a free nation, must not do.  So said the Founding Fathers who created our terrific form of government, this beacon of light to the whole world; and, as Abraham Lincoln put it, ‘the world’s last, best hope.’

     Secondly, there are those, even in the church, who want to say that religion should be kept private, and need not influence one’s life outside the walls of the church, such as in political discussion or decision-making.  Both are dangers which must be avoided.

     There is much more to be said about all this, but let’s hear a word from George Washington.  He talked about his very thing in his Farewell Address in 1796 at the end of his presidency.  He said: “Religion and morality are indispensable supports of political prosperity, and no true patriot would oppose them.  Where would the security for property, reputation, or life be without the sense of religious obligation?  Morality cannot be sustained in a nation without religion.”  Similar quotes by other Founding Fathers could fill a huge book.  Those men had a wide variety of religious beliefs, but all believed in the importance of the moral base that religious faith gives to a nation.

     Os Guinness tells of a speech he gave to Christian businessmen in China.  Afterwards, one of the Chinese businessmen had a question.  He said: “We see in the United States a country that works, and we want to learn from you.  So we have been reading about history and political science and your Founding Fathers, and we have seen how important religion is to your success.  But then we see in your newspapers how so many people in your country are trying to get rid of religion.  Are we missing something, or what is the matter with those people?” 

     The Chinese are trying to learn from the success that we take for granted, and they are learning the clear lessons from our history that we have neglected.  From what I have read, a student can major in History in most of the colleges in this country, and in four years, not hear one word of any of this.  That’s how it is in today’s anti-religious culture.  But this is our heritage and what has formed the fabric of our society.  If we lose this moral foundation, everything else with unravel, and we will not remain strong or safe.

     To say that the Founder Fathers tried to build a government that encouraged virtue in its citizens is certainly not to say our government or citizens have always been virtuous.  No government action can guarantee virtue, but the goal is to enhance and encourage it.  The Founding Fathers were well aware of the sin in every person, and also worked to establish a government that provided checks and balances to restrict the sinful ambitions of those who ruled– but that is another story.  One can argue about how well that has worked.  But what cannot be argued or denied is that people from all over the world dream of coming here; and very few dream of leaving here, even among those most critical of what this nation stands for.

     I started with the words of Paul in Galatians, and I will let him have the last word.  The book of Galatians was written to clarify for the people of Galatia how we are made right before God by the Gospel and not by the Law.  It is a very religious question, and Paul’s argument is theological and not at all political.  But as I said, a by-product of religious faith is moral behavior that makes good citizens.  With that in mind, read these words from Paul:  

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then…  You were called to be free, but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire Law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  So I say, live by the Spirit… and the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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To hear Os Guinness give his speech Can Freedom Last Forever? go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hw6BQXOHod4

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A PRAYER ON INDEPENDENCE DAY, from The Prayers of Peter Marshall, page 186:

 God of our fathers, whose Almighty hand has made and preserved our nation, grant that our people may understand what it is they celebrate today.  May they remember how bitterly our freedom was won, the down payment that was made for it, the installments that have been made since this Republic was born, and the price that must yet be paid for our liberty.  May freedom be seen, not as the right to do as we want, but as the opportunity to want to do what is right.  May it ever be understood that our liberty is under God, and may our faith be something that is not merely stamped upon our coins, but expressed in our lives.  To the extent that America honors Thee, wilt Thou bless America, and keep her true as Thou hast kept her free, and make her good as Thou hast made her rich.  Amen.

1201) Land of the Free (b)

 

     (…continued)  As the government of this new nation was being formed, there was much talk about the three legs of a golden triangle, like three legs of a stool.  All three legs are needed, and each depends on the other.

     The first leg of the stool, the first principle, is that freedom requires virtue, a free nation needs people of virtue.  John Adams said, “The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue.”  Ben Franklin said, “As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have need of more masters.”  If you must have harsh laws strictly governing every move anyone makes, and multitudes of law enforcement people to enforce all those laws, you will not have a free society.  In order to have a relatively free and open society, you have to have people of good character and good will who obey the law even when the police are not watching, who freely help each other out, and who can, for the most part, get along without constant government interference.  In no society will everyone always be like that, as we all remain sinners.  But if a society is going to be free and open, it must have a majority of the people who are of basically good character (of course, this is not in the sense of being justified before God by our good works, but that we behave as good citizens).  Freedom requires virtue.

     The second leg of this school is that virtue requires faith.  People will have a better chance of being good even when the police are not watching, if they truly believe that someone else is watching, which is to say they believe in a God who sees everything.  Atheists can, of course, be good people.  But overall, there is a better chance of people being of good character if they truly believe they are accountable to a greater power.  The most effective inspiration to virtue is faith.

     Therefore, freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith, and then, in order for faith contribute its part, faith needs to be free.  That is the third leg of the golden triangle:  faith requires freedom.  Churches need to be free to do their work, teaching about God and about living good and holy and productive lives for God, because if people are living good and godly lives, they are better citizens.  Again, this doesn’t always work for everyone, but for the most part, people of faith don’t steal, they don’t cheat, they try to keep their families together, and they help their neighbors– and all of that helps build a better nation.

     So the Founding Fathers said, “We want a free nation, and in order to have and keep a free nation, we need good and virtuous people, and to enhance that there must be freedom of religion;” thus, the three legs of the stool– virtue, faith, freedom.  Religion needs freedom and freedom needs religion.  

     Therefore, the very first words in the Bill of Rights are:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”  This was never meant to restrict the practice of religion, but was intended to encourage its practice in every way possible.  Two things are included.  First, the government must not establish any one religion.  Second, the government must not restrict the practice of religion in any way.  The history of Europe before 1776 had shown the Founding Fathers what many Muslim nations are showing us now– that when religion and government are too closely tied together, there will be trouble.  Therefore, any religion could practice freely without restriction, and, no one religion would be favored.

     This was a new and brilliant concept in government.  This First Amendment brings together strong religious conviction, which is necessary, while at the same time, encourages good will among the many religious differences.  Good Christians, good Hindus, good Muslims, and good Buddhists, can all live by the American rules and help build good citizens.  We are Christians, and our job as people of faith consists of more than making good citizens.  We want to talk about truth and faith and eternity and prayer and piety, and so much more.  Making good citizens is just a by-product of what we do.  And the government says, “Good, we want you to do what you do, and we’ll take the good people as the side benefit.”  But says the government, “Do your work as a church, but don’t expect Congress to make any laws requiring everyone to be Lutheran, or forcing them to give money to your church.”  The Founding Fathers knew the history of Europe after the Reformation, with war after war fought over what religion the government would support.  They wanted to keep and encourage strong religious conviction, and they wanted to allow for the freedom of all religions.  Thus, the First Amendment, which is a huge part of our freedom and our success as a nation, and we can thank God for it.

     Europe today has total religious freedom, but very little religious conviction anymore.  Muslim nations have strong religious convictions, but very little sense of religious freedom.  The first amendment has helped the United States maintain this delicate balance between conviction and freedom.  (continued…)

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Romans 13:1a  —  Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…

I Timothy 2:1-2  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers,intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

Psalm 119:44-45  —  I will always obey your law, for ever and ever.  I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.

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Almighty God, you have given us this good land as our heritage.  Make us always remember your generosity and constantly do your will.  Bless our land with honest industry, truthful education, and an honorable way of life.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil course of action.  Make us who came from many nations with many different languages a united people.  Defend our liberties and give those whom we have entrusted with the authority of government the spirit of wisdom, that there might be justice and peace in our land.  When times are prosperous, let our hearts be thankful; and, troubled times, do not let our trust in you fail.  We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978, (#169).

1200) Land of the Free (a)

     In Galatians 5:1 the Apostle Paul says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.   Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  Paul got this idea from Jesus, who said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free; and if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).  And the freedom Jesus was talking about was already a big part of God’s activity in the Old Testament in which the central, defining event was when the Hebrews were freed from the years of slavery in Egypt.  Freedom is a big theme in the Bible.

     Freedom is also a big theme in the United States of America.  On July 4, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed, declaring our freedom and independence from British rule, and, the intent to build our own government, one based on freedom for all.

     The spiritual freedom described in the Bible, and the political freedom we try to maintain as a nation, are not the same thing.   But they are not totally unrelated.

     In Galatians 5:1 Paul warned that freedom may be lost.  Stand firm, he said, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Spiritual freedom can be lost, is what Paul implied by giving that warning.  The political freedom that we have come to take for granted can also be lost.  In a 2012 speech Christian scholar Os Guinness asked, Can Freedom Last Forever?  He was referring to political freedom, and his warning was that yes, indeed, that freedom can be lost.  But the most interesting part of what he says is that political freedom is best maintained by allowing religious freedom. 

    In fact, Guinness said that the main thing to remember about politics is that politics is not the main thing.  Religion, he said, is the main thing.  Politics is necessary and useful for our brief time on earth, but religion– our faith in God– is necessary for all eternity.  Religion is also necessary for our political freedom and life together as a nation.

    Guinness then described political freedom.  There are three parts, he said, to a nation’s freedom.  First of all, there is the winning of that freedom.  That fight to win that freedom began in 1776 with the Declaration of Independence and lasted until George Washington defeated General Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.  It was an extremely difficult five years for the colonists, but in the end, the Revolutionary war was won, and freedom was achieved, and the United States of America was born.

     The next part of freedom was to prove even more difficult.  The second part is the ordering of that freedom; the formation and establishment of a government in which people could live and work together with freedom for all.  After the war, the thirteen colonies were free from Britain, but now those thirteen independent colonies had to find a way to maintain their freedom while at the same time work together.  The ordering of freedom was accomplished in the writing and ratifying of the United States Constitution, that document which orders our free life together.  That was another long and difficult process, taking more time to complete than it took to win the war.  But it was completed in 1787, ratified over the next two years, and life as a nation under the new president George Washington began in 1789.

     The third part to freedom in a nation, and by far the most difficult, is the sustaining of that freedom.  First, freedom had to be won for the colonies; then the new nation had to order itself; and then, if done well, that ordering would sustain that freedom for many years to come.  In 1789 the French won their freedom from an oppressive government, and in 1917 the Russians overthrew their corrupt government.  But in both cases, the quest for freedom failed and chaos resulted, because the freedom was not properly ordered or sustained.  After 240 years we Americans are still free, but it remains a challenge to sustain that freedom amidst the many challenges and threats from within and without.

     The Founding Fathers knew their history, and they knew that one of the basic lessons of history is that nothing ever lasts.  Nations, empires, kingdoms, and governments all come and go.  But the founding fathers set as their goal to defy history, and to do something that had never been done before.  They wanted to create something that would last.

     The new nation had one big advantage and one great danger.  The great advantage was they were relatively free of enemies.  They had just defeated Great Britain, the most powerful nation on earth.  They were able to do so because a great ocean separated them from Britain, and for the time being, that same ocean would keep all other threatening nations at a safe distance.  The United States was able to develop as a nation without threatening enemies.

     But the Founding Fathers knew that not only did nations fail because of outside enemies, but the even greater danger was that successful nations would be corrupted and rot from within.  This, after all, had been the fate of the Roman Empire, the greatest empire the world had ever known.  The hard-working, loyal, noble, and just Romans who had built that great empire, deteriorated into spoiled, greedy, immoral pleasure-seekers, who lived only to be entertained, caring not at all for character, courage, justice, or loyalty.  If the United States of America was to remain a free nation, it would depend a great deal on the goodness and virtue of the people who were being given such freedom. 

     This is where Os Guinness’s discussion turns to religion, and this is the most important part.  (continued…)

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John 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Galatians 5:1  —  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

II Corinthians 3:17  —  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

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Almighty God, we give you thanks for giving us a land in which we are free to read and hear your Word, to confess your name, and to labor together for the extension of your kingdom.  We pray that you grant that the liberty given unto us may be continued to our children and our children’s children, and that the Gospel may here abound, to the blessing of all nations of the earth, and to your eternal glory; through your Son, Jesus Christ  our Lord.  Amen.

–Adapted from an old Lutheran hymnal

1199) Living ‘the Good Life’ (b)

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It is you alone who are to be feared.  Who can stand before you when you are angry?  From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet, when you, God, rose up to judge.  –Psalm 76:7-9a

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     (…continued)  The Psalmist was terrified at the thought of such an accounting before God and said, “Who can stand before you, O Lord?”  The disciples shuddered at the thought of Christ’s demands and asked him, “How can anyone be saved?”  

     Jesus once told a parable about a settling of accounts (Matthew 18:23-35):

(Jesus said), “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.  At this the servant fell on his knees before him.  ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.  But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.  He grabbed him and began to choke him.  ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’  But he refused.  Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.  Then the master called the servant in.  ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

     This king wanted to ‘settle accounts’ with his servants, and one man was brought to him who owed ten thousand talents– an impossible sum of money.   One talent was the equivalent of 15 years of a common man’s labor, and this man somehow owed ten thousand talents.  So “since the servant was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.”  We might well feel that our accounting before God would be just as hopeless and impossible.  But then comes a huge surprise.  The servant begged for mercy and “the master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go.”

     What an amazing and unexpected reversal!  This is the kind of reversal of fortune that Jesus himself was here to bring for all sinners.  Who, after all, could hope for anything after giving an account of himself before God?  Who could proudly and confidently stand before God and say, “Yes, I have done all you have expected of me and obeyed you in everything and now I can stand before you without shame or regret.”  No one could say that before the Holy and Almighty God– except by the forgiveness won on the cross for us by Jesus Christ.  It is now Christ who stands with us at our accounting and declares that our sins have been forgiven and our debt is cancelled.  On our own we deserve nothing, but by faith in Christ we can stand before God with confidence and hope.

      There is one more important thing to take note of in the parable.  That king certainly was a gracious king, and he gave that servant’s life back to him by cancelling that debt and giving him that wonderful word of mercy and release.  But sadly, that was not the end of the parable.  That word of mercy comes in the middle of the parable, and then the servant was sent back out into the world.  The gracious word of the king did not mean there were no more worries or obligations for that servant; and God’s word of grace for us does not mean we can now ignore anything else God might have to say to us.  We are still living in the world, and God still expects us to live like his loved and forgiven people.  That means that we must be willing to also love and forgive others, living in obedience to God’s commands.  The fact that we face our day of reckoning with Christ at our side, does not mean that we may take advantage of that grace and disobey God’s commands.  In the last verses of the parable, the king was shocked to hear that his servant, who had been forgiven so much, went out and had a fellow servant thrown into prison for a far smaller debt.  God expects that we will forgive others as we have been forgiven.  God expects that we show to others the kindness that we have been shown, and that we love others as God has first loved us.  Yes, we have received grace upon grace from God, and with that in mind, we will want to live grace-filled lives.

     Captain Miller’s sacrifice and last words inspired Private Ryan every day to live a good life, worthy of that sacrifice.  In a far deeper way, the thought of Jesus Christ, and his love and sacrifice for us, ought to inspire us to want above all else to live a live worthy of such love.

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 O Lord, I give myself to thee, I trust thee fully.  Thou art wiser than I, more loving to me than I myself.  Fulfill thy purposes in me whatever they be, working in me and through me.  I am born to serve thee, to be thine, and to be thy instrument.  I ask not to see, and I ask not to know.  I ask simply to be used by thee.  Amen.

–John Henry Newman, Catholic cardinal and theologian  (1801-1890)

1198) Living ‘the Good Life’ (a)

     The 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan begins with an old man walking through a military cemetery.  It is the American cemetery at Normandy in France where the thousands of soldiers who lost their lives in the D-Day invasion are buried.  The old man, full of emotion, stops and kneels at one of the graves.

     At this point, the movie goes back in time a half century to June 6, 1944, the day of the invasion.  Over half of the men who were the first to hit the beaches that day were killed, and the movie vividly portrays the horrific barrage of bullets and bombs they faced.  Bodies and parts of bodies were scattered all over the beach, and the sand and water were red with blood.  But those who survived kept going.  The whole world was depending on them, and eventually the beach was secured.  The war would go on for another year, but Allied victory in the second World War depended on the success of that invasion.

     The scene then shifts to a little farm in middle America, where a mother receives word that two of her sons died on that beach, and another son had just been killed in action in the Pacific.  Only one of her four sons was still alive.  He was a paratrooper on D-Day, and if still alive, was somewhere behind enemy lines.  General George Marshall heard about this poor mother, and decided that she had suffered enough.  He ordered that this Private Ryan be found and returned home.  Captain John Miller and a squad of seven men were given the task of finding and ‘saving Private Ryan.’

    This would be a dangerous mission.  Private Ryan, if even still alive, and if he could be found, was deep behind enemy lines, and the Americans had not yet been able to do much more than secure the beach.  They do learn where Private Ryan might be, but on the way to him, they are ambushed, and two of Captain Miller’s squad are killed.  When they do find him, they again come under attack.  This time, three more members of the squad are killed, including Captain Miller.  But the battle was won, Private James Ryan was saved, and he would be going home.  However, five men had to die in order to save Private Ryan.

     In his dying words, Captain Miller said to Private Ryan, “James, earn this.”  Private Ryan knew what he meant, and already felt it in his heart.  Five young men had given their lives so that he might have a life.  Now, it was up to him to live a good and worthy live so that that great sacrifice was not wasted.

     The movie ends by going back to the opening scene.  It is the 1990’s again, and we learn it is Private Ryan in the cemetery, now an old man, kneeling at the grave of Captain Miller.  Overcome with emotion, he stares at the grave marker, and speaks to his long dead Captain.  He tells him that he thought of the Captain’s last words to him every day of his life.  He tells him he tried to live a good life, and hopes that he has.  He says he hopes that the life he got to live was worthy of the sacrifice made by Captain Miller and the four others in his squad.  But still he wonders how any life, however well lived, could have ‘earned,’ or could be worthy of such a sacrifice.  

     The elderly Private Ryan stands up, and his wife is there by him.  He looks at her and he says, “Tell me, I’ve lived a good life.”  She reassures him the best she can, Private Ryan turns for one last salute to Captain Miller, and the movie ends.

     That scene is not only a profound look at one man’s story.  For the viewer, it also becomes a profound look at one’s own life.  We are prompted to ask that same question of ourselves and our own life.  Have I lived a good life?

     This leads one on to other questions.  How do we define a good life?  What does a good life consist of?  What is good enough?  There is a difference between ‘living the good life,’ and living a good life.  

     The phrase ‘living the good life’ brings to mind time off of work, plenty of money, rest, recreation, and relaxation; as in, “Ahhh– this is the life!”

     But when the old soldier in the cemetery asked his wife, ‘Have I lived a good life?’ that is not what he was talking about.  Living a good life means something far deeper than sitting on the beach all day with your feet up as you empty the beer cooler.  Living a good life means living an honorable life, being good to other people, making an honest living, keeping your promises, paying your bills, helping those who need help, being kind, keeping the faith, and so on.  And certainly, if you believe in God, you would want to know what God would have to say about ‘living the good life.’

     God’s Word in Romans 14:7-8 says:  

None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.

     I read those words almost every time I do a funeral.  At the time of death, they are words of great comfort.  We are not alone in death.  Even then, God is with us and we belong to Him.  But the words also say something to the living about how to live our lives.  In life also, it says, we belong to the Lord.  Our lives are not our own to live however we want.  None of us lives to himself alone, it says.  If we live we live to the Lord, and belong to Him.  And then Romans 14:12 says:

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

     Do you shudder when you read that?  We all should tremble at the thought.  Can you imagine what that means to give an account of our lives to God, who sees everything, and who knows everything, even your most secret thoughts; that God on whom you depend for everything?  And this God is going to demand an accounting from you!  Are you eager to give God an account of your life?  Are you ready to face his cross-examination?  Are you anxious to explain to God about those times when you should have told the truth, but did not; and those times when you should have said a kind word, but instead said a harsh word? Are you anxious to explain every wicked thought, every grudge held, every bit of forgiveness withheld, every selfish deed done, every good deed neglected, and every opportunity missed?

     God gave you everything you have.  Are you anxious to explain to him about those times when you could have been generous, but was not?  In that accounting, God might ask you why you spent so much time complaining and so little time giving thanks.  God might ask why you so often looked with envy at what others had, and failed to see your own blessings.  And what will you say if God asks you if you used what He gave you to serve only yourself, or if you sought to find ways to serve Him with what you were given?  

     Romans 14:12 says that each of us will one day give an account of ourselves and our lives to God.  How do you think that will go for you?

     Private Ryan was overcome by emotion at the grave of Captain Miller who gave his life so that he might live, and then told him to live a life worthy of the sacrifices made for him.  Captain Miller did not live to demand such an accounting, but Private Ryan’s own conscience moved him to demand it of himself.

     We owe so much more to God, and He too demands an accounting of what we have done with the life and the gifts he has given us.  Have you lived a ‘good life?’  Is it in your heart and in your soul to want to live a good life of virtue and faith?  Or, are you more concerned about living ‘the good life’ of ease and pleasure?  (continued…)

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Ephesians 4:1b  —  I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Philippians 1:27a  —  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Colossians 1:9b-10  —  We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

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O Lord, let me not live to be useless.

–Bishop Nicholas Stratford, Church of England  (1633-1707)