1197) Learning Patience

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Chapter Five, John Ploughman’s Talks: Plain Advice for Plain People, 1869, Charles Spurgeon, English preacher and author, (1834-1892)

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     Patience is better than wisdom: an ounce of patience is worth a pound of brains.  All men praise patience, but few enough can practice it.  It is a medicine which is good for all diseases…  When one’s flesh and bones are full of aches and pains, it is as natural for us to murmur as for a horse to shake his head when the flies tease him, or a wheel to rattle when a spoke is loose.  But nature should not be the rule with Christians, or what is their religion worth?  If a soldier fights no better than a plow-boy, then off with his uniform.  We expect more fruit from an apple tree than from a thorn, and we have a right to do so.  The disciples of a patient Savior should be patient themselves.  ‘Grin and bear it’ is the old-fashioned advice, but ‘sing and bear it’ is a great deal better.  After all, we get very few cuts of the whip, considering what bad cattle we are; and when we do smart a little, it is soon over.  Pain past is pleasure, and experience comes by it…

     Impatient people water their miseries and plow up their comforts; sorrows are visitors that come without invitation, but complaining minds send a wagon in which to bring their troubles home.  Many people are born crying, live complaining, and die disappointed; they chew the bitter pill which they would not even know to be bitter if they had the sense to swallow it whole in a cup of patience and water.  They think every other man’s burden to be light and their own feathers to be heavy as lead… no one’s toes are so often trodden on as theirs, the snow falls thickest round their door, and the hail rattles hardest on their windows.  Yet, if the truth were known, it is their fancy rather than their fate which makes things go so hard with them,… and they would be well off if they could but think so.  A little sprig of the herb called ‘content,’ if put into the poorest soup will make it taste as rich as the Lord Mayor’s turtle soup…

     To be poor is not always pleasant, but things can always be worse.  Small shoes are apt to pinch, but not if you have a small foot; if we have little means it will be well to have little desires.  Poverty is no shame, but being discontented with it is.  In some things, the poor are better off than the rich.  A poor man’s table is soon spread…  Plenty makes one expect perfection, but hunger finds no fault with the cook.  Hard work brings health, and an ounce of health is worth a sack of diamonds.  It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.  It is not the quantity of our goods, but the blessing of God on what we have that makes us truly rich…  ‘Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith’ (Proverbs 15:16).  A little wood will heat my little oven; why, then, should I murmur because all the woods are not mine?

     When troubles come, it is of no use to fly in the face of God by hard thoughts of providence; that is kicking against the pricks and hurting your feet.  The trees bow in the wind, and so must we.  Every time the sheep bleats it loses a mouthful, and every time we complain we miss a blessing.  Grumbling is a bad trade, and yields no profit, but patience has a golden hand.  Our evils will soon be over.  After rain comes clear shining; every winter turns to spring; every night breaks into morning…  If one door should be shut, God will open another; if the peas do not yield well, the beans may; if one hen leaves her eggs, another will bring out all her brood.  There’s a bright side to all things, and a good God everywhere.  Somewhere or other in the worst flood of trouble there always is a dry spot for contentment to get its foot on…

     Friends, let us be patient, and not then catch ‘the miserables.’  And let’s not give others the disease by wickedly finding fault with God.  The best remedy for affliction is submitting to providence.  What can’t be cured must be endured.  If we cannot get bacon, let us bless God that there are still some cabbages in the garden.  Whatever comes to us from God is worth having, even though it be a rod.  We cannot, by nature, love trouble any more than a mouse can fall in love with a cat, and yet by grace Paul found glory in tribulations also.  Losses and crosses are heavy to bear, but when our hearts are right with God, it is wonderful how easy the yoke becomes.  We must go to glory by the way of the Cross; and as we were never promised that we should ride to heaven in a feather bed, we must not be disappointed when we see the road to be rough, as our fathers found it before us.  All’s well that ends well; and, therefore, let us plow the heaviest soil with our eye on the harvest, and learn to sing at our labor while others murmur.

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Proverbs 19:11  —  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense .

Colossians 3:2  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

James 5:7  —  Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.

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Dear Father, give us our daily bread, favorable seasons, and health.  Preserve us from war, disease, and poverty.  If your will is to test us a little by withholding your blessings for a while, then may your will be done.  When our time and hour comes, deliver us from all evil.  Until then, give us strength and patience.  Amen.  

 –Martin Luther

1196) On Not Becoming a Cranky Old Church Member

“Five Things I Pray I Will Not Do as a Senior Adult in the Church”

by Thom Rainer, July 18, 2016 at:  www.ThomRanier.com

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     I received my first AARP material in the mail six years ago.  I turned 61 years old two days ago.  I am a senior adult.
     Have I noticed any differences in my life at this age?  Certainly.  I move more slowly.  My idea of a mini-marathon is running to the kitchen from the family room.  I see things differently.  I don’t know if I am wiser, but I certainly have different perspectives.
     And I have to admit I view church life differently.  In fact, I sometimes scare myself with my rigid attitude.
     I have five specific prayers.  They are for me.  They are for my attitude about my church.  They are reminders I will need to review constantly.
#1)  I pray I will not feel entitled because I am a key financial supporter in the church.  This attitude means I consider the money my money rather than God’s money.  That means I am giving with a begrudging heart.
#2)  I pray I will not say “I’ve done my time” in the church.  Ministry through the local church is not doing your time, like serving a prison sentence.  It is an outpouring of joy and thanksgiving to God.  I love those churches where senior adults are the most represented among the nursery workers.  I need to be among them.
#3)  I pray I will not be more enthused about recreational trips than ministry and service.  There is nothing wrong about me getting on a bus and going to Branson, Missouri, or Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  But there is something wrong when that is my dominant involvement in ministry in the church.
#4)  I pray I will not be more concerned about my preferences than serving others.  I’ve already blown it on this one.  I did not like the volume of the music in the service at my church a few weeks ago.  I complained about it to my wife.  And then I was reminded of all the young people in the church that Sunday worshiping and praising God during the music.  I was more concerned about my preference than seeing others worship God.
#5)  I pray I will not have a critical spirit.  I attended a business meeting of a large church some time ago.  The total attendance at the meeting represented fewer than five percent of the worship attendance.  One of the men who recognized me approached me before the meeting, “We come together at these business meetings to keep the pastor straight,” he told me.  In reality, they came together to criticize the pastor and staff.  I pray I will not become a perpetual critic.  I don’t want to grow old and cranky; I want to grow old and more sanctified.
     Now that I am a senior adult in my own right, I need to make certain I am not a stumbling block or a hindrance to health and growth in my church.  May the Lord grant me wisdom and service all the days of my life, including my senior years.
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Psalm 71:17-18  —  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.
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Ephesians 4:29  —  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
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I Thessalonians 5:10-13  —  He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.
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O Lord, without whom our labor is lost, and with whom thy little ones go forth as the mighty; be present in all the works in thy church which are undertaken according to thy will (especially…); and grant to thy workers a pure intention, patient faith, sufficient success upon earth, and the bliss of serving thee in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
–William Bright  (1824-1901)
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O God, deliver us from all sloth in thy work and all coldness in thy cause; and grant us, by looking unto thee, to rekindle our love, and by waiting upon thee, to renew our strength; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
–Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958.

1195) Praying the Catechism

Prayers using the Words of Martin Luther’s 1529 Small Catechism Explanations to Each Petition; adapted from the 1929 Intersynodical Translation

Martin Luther  (1483-1546)
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 OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN.
      Our heavenly Father, you tenderly encourage us to believe that you are truly our Father and that we are truly your children.  Give us the faith to believe this, so that we may boldly and confidently come to you in prayer, even as beloved children come to their dear father.
 
HALLOWED BE THY NAME.
     Holy God, your name is indeed holy in itself, but we pray that it may be hallowed among us.  Grant that your Word may be taught in its truth and purity among us, and that we may honor your name by living holy lives in accordance with that Word.  Preserve us from false teachings, and keep us from profaning your name by living lives contrary to your Word and command.
 
THY KINGDOM COME.
     Heavenly Father, we pray that your kingdom may come to us.  Send to us your Holy Spirit, so that by your grace we may believe your Word, and live a godly life here on earth and in heaven forever.
 
THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.
     Your good and gracious will is done indeed without our prayer, but we pray, O Lord, that it may also be done among us.  Almighty God, we pray that you destroy and bring to naught every evil scheme and purpose of the devil, the world, and our own flesh, which would hinder us from hallowing your name or prevent the coming of your Kingdom.  Strengthen us and keep us steadfast in your Word, even unto our end.
 
GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.
     Gracious God, you give daily bread to all people, even to the wicked, without our prayer.  We pray that we may have the faith to always remember that everything we have is from your hand, so that we may receive all things with thanksgiving.  You have given us everything that is needed to satisfy our daily needs, including food and clothing, house and home, fields and flocks, money and goods, family and friends, good government, seasonable weather, peace and health, order and honor, good neighbors, and the like.  We give you thanks.
 
AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.
     We pray, Lord, that you would not regard our sins nor because of them deny our prayers, for we neither merit nor are worthy of those things for which we pray.  By your mercy, we pray that you grant us all things through grace, even though we sin daily and deserve nothing but punishment.  And certainly we, on our part, will heartily forgive, and gladly do good to those who may sin against us.
 
AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.
     Good Lord, we know that you tempt no one to sin.  But we pray in this petition that you would so guard and preserve us that the devil, the world, and our own flesh may not deceive us, and lead us into error and unbelief, despair, and other great and shameful sins.  And we pray that even when we are so tempted, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.
 
BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL.
     Heavenly Father, we pray that you would deliver us from all manner of evil, whether it affect body or soul, property or reputation;  and, at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to yourself in heaven.
 
FOR THINE IS THE KINGDOM, AND THE POWER, AND THE GLORY, FOR EVER AND EVER.
     We can be assured, Lord, that these petitions are acceptable to you and are heard by you, because you yourself have commanded us to pray in this manner, and have promised to hear us.  We pray in the name of the One who taught us this prayer, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
AMEN.
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Matthew 6:6-9  —  (Jesus said),  “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.  This, then, is how you should pray:  ‘Our Father in heaven…”  
 
Luke 11:1-2  —  Now it came to pass, as (Jesus) was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.”  So He said to them, “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”  
 
Colossians 4:2  —    Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 
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O Lord, we know not what is good for us.  Thou knowest what it is.  For it we pray.  AMEN.  

–Prayer of the Khonds in North India

1194) Insights from C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963), September 8, 1947 Time magazine cover

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On the present moment:

     Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future.  Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.”  It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for.  The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.  The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 1949.

James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

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On faith and feelings:

     It is a great joy to be able to ‘feel’ God’s love as a reality, and one must give thanks for it and use it.  But you must be prepared for the feeling dying away again, for feelings are by nature impermanent.  The great thing is to continue to believe when the feeling is absent:  and these periods do quite as much for one as those when the feeling is present.  –From a July 23, 1953 letter to Mary Van Deusen

It is quite right that you should feel that “something terrific” has happened to you…  (But) it is not the sensations that are the real thing.  The real thing is the gift of the Holy Spirit which can’t usually be— perhaps not ever— experienced as a sensation or emotion.  The sensations are merely the response of your nervous system.  Don’t depend on them.  Otherwise when they go and you are once more emotionally flat (as you certainly will be quite soon), you might think that the real thing had gone too.  But it won’t.  It will be there when you can’t feel it.  It may even be most operative when you can feel it least.  –From Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3

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On what it is to depend on God alone:

     It is a dreadful truth that the state of ‘having to depend solely on God’ is what we all dread most.  And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on ‘things.’  That trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, we will not turn to Him as long as He leaves us anything else to turn to… (Such times are) bound to come.  In the hour of death and the day of judgement, what else shall we have?  Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwillingly) to begin practicing it here on earth.  It is good of Him to force us: but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time…  –From a December 6, 1955  letter to Mary Willis Shelburne

Isaiah 26:3  —  You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.

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On anticipating death:

What a state we have got into when we can’t say ‘I’ll be happy when God calls me’ without being afraid one will be thought ‘morbid’.  After all, St. Paul said just the same (Philippians 1:21).  If we really believe what we say we believe— if we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a ‘wandering to find home’, why should we not look forward to the arrival?  There are, aren’t there, only three things we can do about death: to desire it, to fear it, or to ignore it.  The third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls ‘healthy’ is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.  –From a June 7, 1959 letter to Mary Willis Shelburne

Philippians 1:21  —  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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On wanting something too much:

You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it.  ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence.  ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness.  Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst.  –From A Grief Observed.

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On Christian love:

Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves— to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good.  That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.  –From Mere Christianity

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On recognizing and knowing each other in heaven:

The symbols under which Heaven is presented to us are (a) a dinner party, (b) a wedding, (c) a city, and (d) a concert.  It would be grotesque to suppose that the guests or citizens or members of the choir didn’t know one another.  And how can love of one another be commanded in this life if it is to be cut short at death?

From The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3

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Gracious Father, be pleased to touch our hearts in time with trouble, with sorrow, with sickness, with disappointment, with anything that will keep them from being hard to the end, and leading us to eternal ruin.  Amen.

–Thomas Arnold (1795-1842)

1193) A Spontaneous Tribute

September 11, 2001

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By Brian Doyle, in First Things, August/September 2016, pages 21-22.  Brian Doyle is editor of Portland Magazine and author, most recently, of A Book of Uncommon Prayer.

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     By chance I was in New York City seven months after September 11, 2001, and I saw a moment that I still turn over and over in my mind…

     I had spent the day at a conference crammed with uninformed opinions and droning speeches and stern lectures, and by the evening I was weary of it all, weary of being sermonized by pompous authority, weary of the cocksure and the arrogant and the tin-eared…, and I slipped out and away from the prescribed state dinner, which promised only more speeches and lectures.

     I was way up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Island, near the border of Harlem, and I was in the mood to walk off steam.  I walked far and wide— down to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, by the vast Hudson River, and up to Joan of Arc Park, and up to the Firemen’s Memorial on 100th Street.  I thought about wandering up to the great old castle church of Saint John the Divine on 112th Street, but by now I was footsore and yearning for beer and I stepped into a bar.

     It was that russet hour between evening and night and the bar was populous but not crowded.  Most of the people seemed to have stopped by for a beer after work.  One table of men in the corner wore the faded coveralls of telephone linemen or public utility workers.  Another table of mature women were in the bland dark uniforms of corporate staff.  Interestingly, there was a young ­Marine in glittering full dress uniform at the bar, with two older men I took to be his father and uncle, perhaps.  They were laughing and resting their hands affectionately on his shoulders and he was smiling…

     I got a beer and sat in the corner and watched as the bartender, who wore a lovely old-style long bow-tie, set a beer in front of the Marine and waved off the uncle’s offer to pay; and his little cheerful gesture made me happy.  I concluded that this would be the gentle, tender, respectful highlight of a day in which there had been very little respect and tenderness.  

     But then the door opened, and two young firemen walked in.  They were not in full dress uniform but they had their FDNY shirts on, and I noticed their sturdy work boots, and somehow you could tell that they were firemen and not just guys who happened to be wearing FDNY shirts.

     They took a few steps toward the bar, and then something happened that I will never forget.  Everyone in the bar stood up, silently.  The table of women stood up first, I noticed, and then everyone else stood up, including me.  I thought perhaps someone would start to applaud but no one made a sound.  The men standing at the bar turned and faced the firemen, and then the young Marine drew himself up straight as a tree and saluted the firemen, and then his father and uncle saluted too, and then everyone else in the bar saluted the firemen.  I tell you that there wasn’t a sound in the place, not the clink of a glass or the shuffle of feet or a cough or anything.

     After a few seconds one of the firemen nodded to everyone, and the other fireman made a slight gesture of acknowledgment with his right hand, and the bartender set two beers on the bar, and everyone sat down again, and everything went on as before; but not.

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ANOTHER SENSELESS TRAGEDY; ANOTHER TRIBUTE:

At the interfaith memorial service in the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center on July 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas, honoring the five slain Dallas police officers. 

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I Thessalonians 5:11  —  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

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

Galatians 5:13b  —  Serve one another humbly in love.

John 15:13  —   Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

I Corinthians 16:13  —  Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

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PRAYER FOR FIREFIGHTERS and POLICE OFFICERS:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of mercy,
who through your Son
gave us a marvelous example of charity
and the great commandment of love for one another.
Send down your blessings on these your servants,
who so generously devote themselves to helping others.
Grant them courage when they are afraid,
wisdom when they must make quick decisions,
strength when they are weary,
and compassion in all their work.
When the call comes
and they are sent to aid both friend and stranger,
let them faithfully serve you in their neighbor.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

adapted from The Book of Blessings, #587, by Diana Macalintal

1192) Going to Church With Max

photo-40

By Emily Colson, author of Dancing with Max: A Mother and Son Who Broke Freewriting about going to church with her autistic son Max; posted July 1, 2016, at http://www.keyministry.org , a website that “promotes meaningful connection between churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”  Image copyright Emily Colson.

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     Something happened at church.  Or perhaps what you need to know is, what didn’t happen.

     I pulled up to the church and Max bounced out of the car swinging his favorite vacuum.  Several people were unsuspectingly milling around by the front door, exchanging greetings.  “Watch out for the people!” I yelled behind Max as I watched his 8-pound Oreck swing like a ten ton wrecking ball.  I fully expected to see the crowd part like the Red Sea, people diving into the bushes head first as Max and his vacuum bolted toward them.  But instead, they extended their arms for a handshake, or a pat on his back.

     Every time I walk through the doors of our church I remember the years we lived in isolation, and the five years of staying home on Sunday mornings when we could not find our place.  Autism held us hostage.  But it is not a bitter memory; it is the soil from which God grew a victory.  When I cross that threshold now with Max, it feels like holy ground.

     Max comes most Sundays to serve as a greeter, and at the Welcome Center, and as part of the clean up team, otherwise known as the “Grunt Crew.”

     Max has clearly been given one of the lesser-known spiritual gifts of vacuuming.

     But what has changed Max’s life is what has changed mine:  He is loved.  He belongs.  He is indispensable.  We have been back at church for twelve years now, and none of this has been easy— sitting quietly is not part of Max’s skill set.  But it’s as if the whole church is learning to breathe a little deeper, and in that, we find there is enough room for everyone.

     After a wonderful and slightly aerobic morning, we could see from our seats at the Welcome Center that Pastor Paul was finishing up the message, or “the talking” as Max calls it.  That’s Max’s cue.  He flew into the sanctuary and took his position in the back.  This is Max’s spot, up several stairs beside the sound booth.

     He worships there most Sundays, all 190 pounds of him, dancing above the congregation.

     Most Sundays Max bounces so hard that one would expect him to go right through the wooden platform floor, dunk tank style.  But he won’t.  Some of the men at church noticed the same risk.  They got together one day and reinforced the floor where Max dances.  It was months before anyone told me what the men had done.  There was no mention of cost or inconvenience; no suggestion that perhaps the sound booth should not be used as a 1960s GoGo booth.  Instead, they just strengthened the floor.  Maybe this is what we all want— to find the spot where we belong, and to know that others will hold us up in it.  My friend, Pastor Brooks, said to me recently, “We move from a family attending church, to a church that becomes a family.”

     Max and I could now see the music team taking their positions on stage.  Max started dancing even before the music began, bouncing on his toes as if he were walking on hot sand.  He was extra excited this morning, anticipating our church picnic that would follow the service.  But when the music started, it wasn’t a dance song at all.  Instead, it was slow and piercing, a quiet rhythm that pulled us forward.  Everything became still.  There was a shift in the room, as if the Spirit was pouring in like a gentle tide, surrounding us, lifting us, washing over our feet.  The entire church rose in unison to stand in the deep, with our hearts turned to God.  And when the song ended, no one moved.

     Well, almost no one.

     Max could no longer contain himself.  He threw his arms over his head and leapt from the platform.  He got some good air and then stuck the landing with the precision of a Russian gymnast.  And when he landed, he yelled.  Loudly.  This was not your average run of the mill shout, or even the kind of noise one might expect when leaping from such a height.  No, this was the kind of sound one exerts when instigating a food fight.

     “BAR-BE-QUE!” Max yelled across the church, his arms still stretched to the sky.

     I ducked down to make myself slightly more invisible in the now well-lit church, wishing there were a dressing room curtain I could quickly hide behind.

     Through squinting eyes I watched as the church moved in unison once again.  But this time every head fell forward, every shoulder curled.  It was as if a single rogue wave had crashed over the entire congregation.  A moment later those same heads bobbed back up for air with a burst of laughter that filled the sanctuary.  And then the most remarkable thing happened.  Or perhaps, didn’t happen.

     No one stared . . . or sighed . . . or scowled.  No one even turned around to see where the sound had come from.  Instead, every person just turned to smile at the person beside them.  The same sweeping tide that had lifted us to God in worship was drawing us together in love.

     Max darted into the crowd and started shaking hands with people as if he were campaigning for office.  I just leaned against that reinforced platform, trying to decide if this was completely embarrassing, or achingly beautiful.  And then I heard something in the distance.  It was a man’s voice, rising above the laughter in the church, saying, “That’s our Max.”

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1 Corinthians 12:18…22  —  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be . . . (and) those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.

Galatians 6:2  —  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

2 Corinthians 12:9  —  (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Romans 14:10…19  —  You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?  Or why do you treat them with contempt?  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat…  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

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Loving God, we come to you in prayer with all of our limitations.  We confess that we often try to mask our challenges from those around us.  We pretend that we are whole to mask the brokenness in our lives.  Where there can be healing, we ask that you help restore us.  Where healing is not possible, we ask that you give us acceptance of our limitations and the strength to forge on.  Help us to be patient with ourselves and tolerant of others.  Give us the wisdom to not focus our attention on our limitations as humans, but on our giftedness as your unique children.  Help us to recognize the giftedness of others, even when they struggle to see the good in themselves.  Shift our mindset from what we are not, to what we are and are yet to be.  Move us forward together as a community for your glory and our neighbors’ good.  Amen.

~~ Benjamin Walters, Pastor, Elizabethtown (PA) Church of the Brethren

1191) The Power of a Good Name

 

By Armstrong Williams, businessman and nationally syndicated columnist (March 1996 column).

     One summer day my father sent me to buy wire and fencing for our farm in Marion County, South Carolina.  At 16, I liked nothing better than getting behind the wheel of our Chevy pickup, but this time there was a damper on my spirits.  My father had told me I’d have to ask for credit at the store.

     Sixteen is a prideful age, when a young man wants respect, not charity.  It was 1976, and the ugly shadow of racism was a fact of life.  I’d seen my friends ask for credit and then stand, head down, while a patronizing store owner questioned whether they were “good for it.”  I knew black youths just like me who were watched like thieves by the store clerk each time they went into a grocery.

     My family was honest.  We paid our debts.  But before harvest, cash was short.  Would the store owner trust us?

     At Davis Brothers General Store, Buck Davis stood behind the register, talking to a middle-aged farmer.  Buck was a tall, weathered man in a red hunting shirt and khaki pants, and I nodded as I passed him on my way to the hardware aisle.  When I brought my purchases to the register, I said carefully, “I need to put this on credit.”

     The farmer gave me an amused, cynical look.  But Buck’s face didn’t change.  “Sure,” he said easily. “Your daddy is always good for it.”  He turned to the other man.  “This here is one of James Williams’s sons.”

     The farmer nodded in a neighborly way.  I was filled with pride.  James Williams’s son.  Those three words had opened a door to an adult’s respect and trust.

     That day I discovered that a good name could bestow a capital of good will of immense value.  The good name my father and mother had earned brought our whole family the respect of our neighbors.  Everyone knew what to expect from a Williams:  a decent person who kept his word and respected himself too much to do wrong.

     We children — eight brothers and two sisters – could enjoy that good name, unearned, unless and until we did something to lose it.  Compromising it would hurt not only the transgressor but also those we loved and those who loved us.  We had a stake in one another — and in ourselves.

     A good name, and the responsibility that came with it, forced us children to be better than we otherwise might be.  We wanted to be thought of as good people, and by acting like good people for long enough, we became pretty decent citizens.

     The desire to keep the respect of a good name propelled me to become the first in our family to go to university.  Eventually, it gave me the initiative to start my own successful public relations firm in Washington, D.C..

     I thought about the power of a good name when I heard Colin Powell say that America needs to restore a sense of shame in its neighborhoods.  He’s right.  If pride in a good name keeps families and neighborhoods straight, a sense of shame is the reverse side of that coin.

     Doing drugs, abusing alcohol, stealing, getting a young woman pregnant out of wedlock — today, none of these behaviors are the deep embarrassment they should be.  Nearly one out of three births in America is to an unwed mother.  Many of these children will grow up without the security and guidance of a caring father and mother committed to each other.

     Once the social ties and mutual obligations of the family disintegrate, communities fall apart.  Politicians may boast that crime is falling, but while the population has increased only 40 percent since 1960, violent crime in America has increased a staggering 550 percent — and we’ve become used to it.  Teen drug abuse is rising again.  No neighborhood is immune…

     Cultural influences such as television and movies portray mostly a world in which respect goes to the most violent.  Life is considered cheap.

     Meanwhile, the small signs of civility and respect that sustain civilization are vanishing from schools, stores and streets.  Phrases like “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir,” “thank you” and “please” show self-respect and respect for others.  Yet, encouraged by the pervasive profanity on television and in music, kids don’t think twice about aggressive and vulgar language.

     Many of today’s kids have failed because their sense of shame has failed.  They were born into families with poor reputations, not caring about keeping a good name.

     Today, when I’m back home, I receive respect because of the good name passed on as my father’s patrimony and upheld to this day by me and my siblings.  People like Buck Davis came to know of my success in the world.  But it was my family’s good name that paved the way.

     Keeping a good name is rewarded not only by outsiders’ esteem but when those who know you best put their confidence in you.  In the last months of his life Daddy, typically, worried more about my mother than about his illness.  He wanted to spare her the grief of watching him die at home.  So he came to me.

     By then I was living and working in Washington, D. C.  When Daddy arrived from South Carolina, I had him admitted to a nearby hospital.  For two months, I spent every day sitting by his bedside.  Both of us knew he had little time left.

     When he was not in too much pain to talk, he would ask about the family.  He wanted to be sure he had met his responsibilities in this world.  On the last day, I was there with him as he passed away.

     My daddy had never been rich or powerful.  But in his dying, he gave me a last gift:  his faith that I was the man he had wanted me to be.  By trusting me to care for him at the moment of his passing, he showed not only his love, but his pride and confidence in me.

     After all, I was James Williams’s son — a Williams of Marion, South Carolina —  and a Williams would do right.

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Proverbs 22:1  —  A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Proverbs 3:1-4  —  My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.  Let love and faithfulness never leave you… write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

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 I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.  They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.  Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.  Amen.

–Martin Luther, prayer on the 8th commandment

1190) An Old Lady’s Prayers

Think all is lost?  Feel like you don’t know how to make a difference in our crazy world?  Here’s a personal story that just might change your mind.  

–John Stonestreet, at http://www.breakpoint.org, May 25, 2016.

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     In 9th grade, I was a knucklehead.  Even worse, I was a Christian school knucklehead.  Those are the worst kind.  Six days a week, between that Christian school and the church that operated it, I was in the same building hearing the same Bible lessons, often from the same people.  But I didn’t really have much of a faith that I could call my own.

     That all began to change on the last day of classes before Christmas break in December of 1990.  Now we all know what’s supposed to happen on the last day of classes before Christmas break:  not much.

     Well, that day, my Bible teacher announced that our boys Bible class was being sent out two by two to visit the elderly “shut-ins” of our church.  I suppose the intention was to bring Christmas cheer, but as you might imagine, that’s not what happened.  The only thing we wanted to do less than school work on the last day of classes before Christmas break was visit old people we’d never met.

     My only consolation was that I was paired with my friend Brian.  He shared my disdain for the assignment we’d been given.  “What are we going to do?” I asked.  “I don’t want to go see any old people.”

     “I’ve got an idea,” Brian replied.  “We’ll go visit one person, but say that we couldn’t find the other person’s house.  That way, we’ll be done fast and can go to the mall.”

     And that’s how I met Ms. Buckner.  She lived down a windy, rural Virginia road in a small little apartment her grandson had built for her on the end of his farmhouse.

     She invited us inside, and there we were:  an 11th grader, a ninth grader, and an 89-year-old widow.  We didn’t have a lot in common.

     Just when we thought it couldn’t possibly get any more awkward, Ms. Buckner said, “Let’s sing Christmas carols together.”  We stumbled our way through Silent Night, and then she decided one carol was enough.

     “Well, Ms. Buckner,” Brian said, “we’d best be on our way.”

     “Yes,” I lied, “we still have one more person to visit before heading back to school.”

     And then she asked, “Can we pray together before you go?”

     So I prayed, and Brian prayed— that took about 45 seconds.  But then Ms. Buckner prayed.

     At that point, I’d been in the church my whole life.  I’d heard thousands of prayers.  But I had never heard anything like this.  I remember looking up just make sure that Jesus wasn’t sitting next to her, because it sure sounded like He was.  She spoke to God as if she knew Him, with a simultaneous confidence and humility that only comes when you’re certain you’re being heard.

     We left her house and headed to the mall, distracted by our plan to meet some girls.  But I do remember, however, Brian saying to me, “She’s a cool old woman.”  And I agreed.

     Two years later, I woke up with the strangest feeling.  Typically, I’d wake up thinking about basketball or my girlfriend, but I woke up this particular morning thinking of Ms. Buckner.  And to this day, I have no idea why.

     But I ended up going back down that windy road to her house.  “Ms. Buckner,” I said, “you probably don’t remember me, but two years ago I came here with my friend Brian.  My name is John.”

     “John,” she smiled. “I prayed for you this morning.”

     From that point on, Ms. Buckner became a close personal friend.  In fact, she prayed for me every day for the rest of her life.  To this day, I cannot imagine what she prayed me into or out of.

     At age fourteen, I found myself— seemingly by chance— in the home of an 89-year-old woman I didn’t know, and didn’t particularly care to know.  I didn’t want to be there.  I lied to her.  And yet, God used her to alter the trajectory of my life.  I found out later that she had actually impacted many, many others in that community as well.

     God uses us, often in ways we can’t even imagine.

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James 5:16b  —  The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

Romans 1:9  —  For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.

I Peter 3:12a  —  The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.

II Timothy 1:3  —   I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

Colossians 1;3  —  We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.

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 Eternal God, you have led us through our days and years, made wisdom ripe and faith mature.  Show men and women your purpose for them, so that, when youth is spent, they may not find life empty or labor stale, but may devote themselves to dear loves and worthy tasks, with undiminished strength; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–1970 Presbyterian Hymnal, page 185.

1189) A Reluctant Good Samaritan (c)

Malachy McCourt  (1931- )

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     (…continued)   What saved Malachy McCourt from himself was the opportunity to help someone else– the chance to be a Good Samaritan.  His first marriage lasted only long enough to produce two children, which he seldom saw.  His second marriage survived his drinking, but just barely, marred again by his irresponsibility and absence.  But the one thing he did sober up enough to get right was the care of his second wife’s mentally challenged daughter from a previous marriage.  Nina was severely impaired and needed almost constant attention.  Perhaps because of his own miserable childhood, Malachy had a special love and concern for Nina.  He would do anything for her.  They kept her at home for as long as they could, but finally they had to seek out institutional care for her.  

     That began a decades long search for a suitable place for Nina.  Sometimes, she stayed at group homes where she received good care.  But then those places would close, and other places often brought poor care and much disappointment and frustration.  It was a never-ending search to find what was best for Nina.  One of the places Nina stayed was in a New York State facility.  Family visits were in a clean and pleasant area which gave the impression of it being a wonderful place to stay.  But day to day life for the residents in the back hallways and wards was appalling, with conditions unfit for animals.

     When McCourt heard about these conditions, he was enraged, and he began to organize the families of residents to work for changes.  What followed was a long fight against the authorities on every level, but which finally led not only to changes there, but throughout the state and even the nation.  He had a little bit of fame from his on and off acting career, and a lot of contacts, and so his involvement was crucial.  

     This was the first time he had ever worked with other people with the goal of helping someone else, and it brought a new meaning and purpose to his life.  It became a turning point for him, and with it, began the long process of patching together his life, which was in ruins.  He had to quit drinking, save his second marriage, reconnect with his kids, get and keep a job for once, get reconciled with family back in Ireland, and settle things with a whole host of others he had angered or alienated or cheated out of money over the years.  It even led to a religious conversion of sorts, and a return to faith in the God he had heard about in childhood, but had so angrily turned away from.  It was a long and painful process, but it did bring to him a bit of peace and comfort by the time he was an old man.  And it all began with the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan, and the decision to, for once, do something for someone else.

     In his old age, Malachy McCourt was looking back on his life as he wrote this book.  As he was thinking about his work as a Good Samaritan, that work which led to so many positive changes in his life, he was reminded of something he memorized in catechism class as a child.  He remembered learning that, “Our purpose on earth is to know and serve God, so that we may spend eternity with that God.”  He remembered thinking as a child that would be extremely boring.  He wanted to raise hell with his friends, not sit around in heaven with God and a bunch of holy people.  But now, many years later, he thought of how good it felt to be a part of something that helped so many people, and he said, “If that’s what it means to serve God, being able to work with and be with the kind of wonderful people that I worked with on that project, then I have changed my mind about heaven and I am all for it.”

     God has created us in such a way that when we help others, we ourselves are also blessed.  He has called on us to take care of not only ourselves, but each other.  For years, McCourt raged against a God that would allow children to suffer like he did.  He did not understand that God has given us each a free will, and we can use that free will to make the world a better or a worse place.  Some people make it worse, and some make it better.  Jesus calls on us to be like the Good Samaritan, helping others whenever we can.  

     McCourt often raged against the Catholic charity workers who were at times mean to his mother and added to her humiliation as she sought their assistance.  And while the behavior of some of those workers was indeed terrible, it was that Catholic charity, given by Christian people in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, that did keep alive the four McCourt children that did survive.  Without that aid, there would have been nothing for several years.  Imperfect and unwilling as we are, God calls us to be a part of his work in making the world a better place to live for everyone.  Our willingness to be a part of that work of helping others then also becomes a blessing for ourselves.

     A fellow pastor tells about a conversation he had with a man in his parish who was a World War II veteran.  He was in on the D-day invasion of Normandy and the march across Europe to push back and defeat the Nazis.  As he spoke of his war experiences, he mentioned the suffering, the deprivation, the loss of many good friends, and the horror of war.  But then he said, “Still, I look back on those four years as the very best years of my life.  For once in my life I really had the feeling that I was part of something bigger than myself.  I was on the move, and we were going somewhere and accomplishing something important.  We had a mission.  Maybe it’s sad to say, but I do look upon those years as the best of my life.”

     He said, “I was a part of something bigger than myself; we had a mission.”  You do not have to be a soldier in a war to do that.  God calls each of us to a mission, a mission that is far bigger than our own little self.  And, said Jesus, even a cup of cold water given to one who is thirsty can be a part of that mission.  “Whatever you do for the least of these my children,” said Jesus, “you do it for me.”  And to the man who asked who is this neighbor he should be helping, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan; and then said, “Go and do likewise.”

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Galatians 6:7-10  —  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

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Thou art never weary, O Lord, of doing us good. 

Let us never be weary of doing Thee service.  Amen.

–John Wesley  (1703-1791)

1188) A Reluctant Good Samaritan (b)

Malachy McCourt in The Molly Maguires, 1970

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     (…continued)  I will illustrate the message of this parable by telling the story of a man who spent much of his life being the very opposite of a Good Samaritan; and then, how his life improved when he became a Good Samaritan.

     The man is Malachy McCourt, now in his 80’s.  Malachy is the younger brother of Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning childhood memoir Angela’s Ashes, which was made into a movie.  Malachy has also written a book about his interesting life.  Frank and Malachy were two of seven children raised in poverty and misery in Limerick, Ireland.  Three of the children died before the age of five from disease and malnutrition; and the terrible conditions that the family was raised in makes one wonder how any of them survived.  Most of the trouble was caused by their alcoholic father who hardly ever worked, and when he did, he spent it all at the pub on pint after pint of Guinness beer.  Eventually, he abandoned the family, never to return.

     Malachy was filled with rage about what his father had done to his mother and the family.  When he grew up, he left for America to get out of Ireland and away from all the bad memories and begin a new life.  Here in America, in no time at all, he became a world-class drunk, got married, was unfaithful from the very beginning, and had two children, which he then abandoned.  He remained extremely angry with his father for what he had done to the family, while at the same time, he was making all the same mistakes and doing the very same thing to his own family.

     McCourt is a brilliant man, and eloquently describes his three decades of alcoholism.  He was never at a loss for words, and, was a natural at acting, so he had various jobs as an actor in plays and television and movies, along with being a radio talk show host and businessman.  But his drinking always ruined everything; and while at times he had a huge income, at many other times he was as poor as his father had been back in Ireland.  He was completely irresponsible, not only in his marriages and with his children, but also in his business dealings, his friendships, and all his other relationships.  He lied, cheated, provoked, fought, spent time in jail, worked for a time with an international smuggling ring, got fired from most of the jobs he held, and kicked out of many of the places he went.  He is a great story-teller, his accounts can be hilarious, and he really did have some incredible experiences.  At times, the reader might even begin to envy him for some of his many adventures and his sometimes exciting life; except that he makes very clear that none of that brought him any happiness or peace of mind.

     Reading the story of the Good Samaritan brought to my mind the huge difference between the life of Malachy McCourt and the actions of that Good Samaritan.  It occurred to me how unselfish was that Good Samaritan’s act of kindness.  He had nothing to gain and much to lose by stopping to help that man on the side of the road, and yet he did so.  But Malachy McCourt’s life, for so many years, was lived completely for himself.  He could not understand why his wife was so upset with him for never being home, and never bringing home a paycheck.  After all, he told her that he loved her– what more did she want?  After the divorce, the court order was that he should not take the children into a bar when he had them for the weekend.  But having no place else to go, he took them to the bar, and when they told their mother, and she got mad, and then he got mad at the children.  When business partners got upset with his arrogance and irresponsibly, he got mad at them.  And, he ridiculed those who tried to help others, because in his life, everything was done for himself alone.  That was his way to live and be happy– to live only for himself.  In fact, he owned a bar in New York for a time, and the name of the place was ‘Himself.’

     In escaping the misery of his childhood, he had roared into adulthood, desperately seeking all the friends and good times he could.  But even though his whole life was centered on making himself alone happy, he ended up lonely and poor and an alcoholic and oftentimes suicidal.  He ended up worse than he was as a child in Limerick, where at least he was able to keep alive the hope for a better future.  By middle-age, all he had left was the alcohol induced happiness when he was drunk.  But, when he was sober, there was an ever deepening despair.

     What saved Malachy McCourt from himself was the opportunity to help someone else– the chance to be a Good Samaritan.  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 2:1…10-11  —  I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless…  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.  My heart took delight in all my labor...  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

Isaiah 48:22  —  “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

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Thou hast formed us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.

–Augustine, Confessions, Book 1