1238) Getting to Know God (a)

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     Charlie was a good friend of mine.   He was on the church council, so we worked together there.   Our wives got along and our kids were about the same age, so we spent time together as families.   And we had a lot in common, so we became good friends.   One time I was trying to make a joke about something.  I don’t remember what I said, but I noticed Charlie wasn’t laughing.  Then it occurred to me, that because of something Charlie was going through in his life, my thoughtless joke hit a little too close to home.  I realized I might have made him angry.  I immediately apologized and said I did not mean to offend him.  And Charlie said, “Don’t worry about it.  I know you would never intentionally say anything to hurt me.  We all say stupid things.  Forget it.”  And the conversation continued on as usual.

     Charlie immediately gave me the benefit of the doubt and was not angered because he knew me.   When I said something stupid and hurtful, he did not right away think the worst of me.  Rather, he overlooked it.  I would have done the same for him.  We were friends.

     Did you ever say the wrong thing to someone and regret it?  What happened?  Well, it depends on who you said it to, doesn’t it?  If it was someone you knew well and with whom you had a good relationship, it probably went okay.  But if it was someone who you did not get along with, or did not know very well, it might well have been taken as an insult, even if you did not intend it to be mean or insulting.

     Psalm 36:10 is addressed to God and says, “Continue your love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright in heart.”  To those who know you, it says. 

     Do you know God?  What does it mean to know God?  How does that work?  We can pray to God, but it is a pretty one-sided conversation.  I can’t get to know God in exactly the same way I got to be friends with Charlie.

     However, even though the relationship is not the same as with another person, our relationship with God does not have to be only one-sided.  We can talk to God in our prayers, one-sided as they are; and God speaks to us in His Word.  Knowing God means knowing something about God, and we can learn all kinds of things about God in the Bible.  But that happens only if we are listening to that side of the conversation by spending time with the Bible– just like good friends spend time together.

     Our relationship with God will be tested, just like any relationship is tested.  My friendship with Charlie was tested when I said something stupid.  Charlie knew me, so he knew how to take my remark.  God, we believe, is all-powerful, and God should be able to do for me whatever I need done.  So if God doesn’t come through for me, the relationship faces a test.  “Why me, God?  Why didn’t you help me, Lord?  Why don’t you answer my prayers?,” etc.  We know God is all powerful, but there are other things we also need to know about God.  And the more we know about God and how He deals with us, the more we will trust God, and the more able our relationship with God will be able to handle these tests.  The Psalmist encourages us to know God because if we don’t know God very well, we might immediately think the worst of God when there is something we don’t understand.

     The other day I saw a big sign on the side of a city bus that said, “There’s probably no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life.” 

     How do you respond to that little bit of advice?  The implication is that believing in God is mostly a source of worry that will make you unable to enjoy life.  Therefore, forget God (there is probably no god anyway), and then you don’t have to worry about being good, and then you can enjoy your life.

     Do you find that convincing?  Troubling?  I don’t, because I don’t accept any of the premises behind that statement, premises which have an entirely false concept of God.  I can quickly dismiss that bit of nonsense because I know something about God.

     Someone else, however, might find that advice convincing and appealing.  They might not know much about God, and therefore imagine God to be nothing more than such a harsh rule-giver and punisher.  So, ‘no god, no problem.’  But I would want to ask them how well they know God, and inquire about their source of information. 

     Faith in God is not always easy, and how well you know God will determine how able you are to handle challenges such as unanswered prayer, unresolved family issues, movies that ridicule your faith, or a sign on a bus.  A part of faith is knowing God, and knowing God means knowing something about God.  This doesn’t mean everyone has to be an expert in the Bible and theology.  But a faith that knows nothing about God is a fragile faith.  (continued…)

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Psalm 36:10  —  Continue your love to those who know youyour righteousness to the upright in heart.

Psalm 46:10  —  He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Philippians 3:7-8a  —  Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

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Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.

–St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

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1237) Tools for Remembering (b)

     (…continued)  This theme of remembering is also a big theme in the Bible.  God wants you to remember a few things about him and what he has done for you.  Not only that, he has even given you some tools to help in that remembering.  Consider just a few verses.

     Exodus 20:8 is a familiar one:  “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.”  In this third commandment we are commanded to remember— to remember the Sabbath day– and use that day, it goes on to say, to remember your God who created this world and gave you your life.  

     In I Corinthians Paul retells the story of the first Holy Communion.  As Jesus first offered that Holy Sacrament that we still receive, he said twice: “Do this in remembrance of me (I Corinthians 11:24 & 25).”  

     One more verse, this one from the Easter story.  The women, you remember, went to the tomb of Jesus, and were surprised to find it empty.  But the angels say to them, “He is not here. He is risen. Don’t you remember; he said he would be raised on the third day?”  They had forgotten.  But the next verse says, “Then they remembered his words” (Luke 24:8).

     There is nothing more important in all of life than to remember the words of Jesus.  That is more important than anything, because the Bible tells us all else will pass away, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever (Isaiah 40:8).  And in that word there is a word for you and me, a word that says we can live again.  Jesus said, “because I live, you will live also.”  That is a promise well worth believing in, paying attention to, and remembering.  It’s a lot of fun to remember the past and talk about how things used to be.  But most of all, you want to remember that which will last forever and will never change.

     Look now again at the verse I began with, Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”  God has acted in the past, yesterday.  And God wants you to remember him today, and everyday.  And that is so you can be with God forever.  The old times and the old-timers disappear, and we disappear; but Jesus Christ and his promises for us are the THE SAME, yesterday, today, and forever.  Jesus is alive, and offers the promise of that same eternal life to all who will believe in him.  This is a promise, says Peter, “that can never perish, spoil, or fade, kept in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:4).  For you

     Faith comes by and is sustained by hearing that Word of God and remembering it, says Romans 10.  And where do we hear it?  Well, we hear it when we worship, if nowhere else.  That’s why the third commandment is to “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy.”  And that’s why we go to church– to hear God’s word and to remember who created us and why we are here and what God has done for us and where we are going.  The Sabbath Day is one of the TOOLS God has given us by which we will remember him.  The Bible, Holy Communion, and prayer are some of the other tools.  And in the life of the Spirit (just like in life on the farm) we need tools, and we need to make use of the tools we’ve been given.

     One old farmer put it this way (from a conversation recorded by Robert Coles in Harvard Diary, 1989):  

If it wasn’t for church, I’d just forget all about God.  We can’t be expected to be thinking about God all the time, you know.  I’ve got a lot on my mind.  I’ve got my animals to tend to, and crops to plant and harvest, and the weather to watch, and I’ve got to be wondering how I’m going to feed all my kids and make sure they mind their mother.  So half the time, I forget all about God.  But come Sunday, I do try to pay my respects to Jesus, and I do stop whatever I’m doing and go the church for that.  I’m there every Sunday to say ‘Thank you Lord, for another week of working my burden, and thank you Jesus for giving me the chance to do it– to work my land until you say enough is enough, and it’s time to come home.’  There in church is where I remember to say Thank You.  That’s where I stop doing everything else and go and remember God.

     That was a wise farmer.  He knew how to remember what is most important.  He knew he wanted to remember Jesus.  Amidst all the changes of life, “Jesus Christ remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever.”  And that’s what we need, and want, most of all– a promise that lasts forever.

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The Angelus, 1859, Jean Francois Millet  (1814-1875)

     I enjoy going out to Pioneer Power each year.  Much of what’s out there is from before my time, but there are many things I do remember and don’t see anymore.  So it’s fun to see it again, and think to myself, “I used to work with one of those.”  But such remembering is always a pleasure and a sadness all at once, because not only do we remember the old times, but those memories also call to mind the old-timers, those who we remember using all that stuff.  There is a whole way of life recreated on those grounds for a weekend— but it really is gone forever; along with all the people who lived it– also all gone.  But not forever, says the Lord.  Not forever.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said, “and he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live again.”  Remember that.

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 From the ‘Angelus’ prayer (16th century):

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.  Amen.

1236) Tools for Remembering (a)

Hebrews 13:8–  Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

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     I spent Friday afternoon at the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show.  What started out 43 years ago as a small local Threshing Bee, has grown into one of the largest shows of its kind in the Midwest.  It has a little of everything of how it used to be on the farm:  grain threshing, teams of horses, giant steam engines, antique tractors, horse powered well-drilling, corn shredding and shelling– and a little village which includes a steam-powered sawmill, creamery, schoolhouse, church, and working blacksmith shop.  It is 120 acres of memories.

     And it’s fun.  People like getting together to remember the old times.  They enjoy looking at all that old machinery cranked up, smoking and snorting.  It is a whole weekend of talking about days gone by.  Sometimes, even oftentimes, we might long for those simpler days.  Now of course, we wouldn’t want to go back to doing everything like it used to be done.  For example, now that a lot of farmers are used to 24-row planters, could you imagine going back to planting corn with one of these– one seed at a time?

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     And now that we have combines bigger than the average pioneer’s log cabin, could you imagine going back to picking corn with one of these husking knives– one corn cob at a time?  Only 75 years ago most farmers were still using one of these instead of a combine or even a one row corn-picker.

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     Somebody once said, “What was difficult to endure, is sweet to remember.”  That could be the theme of Pioneer Power days, with all those tools, implements, machines, and other items of the good old days.  It is great fun to see it all now; but anyone who is old enough to remember using those old tools and machines can also remember how hard they worked when those were the tools of daily life.  It’s fun now to see it all going again, but when new and more convenient machinery came out, most folks were quick to park the old stuff out in the weeds behind the machine shed and go with the new.

     But “What was difficult to endure is sweet to remember,” so I enjoy going to Pioneer Power with my parents because everything they look at reminds Mom and Dad of something.  They’re both talking at the same time, recalling how their folks had one of these, or how they used to work with one of those, or a specific day when this or that broke down and what a miserable day that was, and so on.  What was difficult to endure is indeed sweet to remember.

     This two-part meditation will be about tools, and then about remembering, and then, about tools for remembering.

     First of all, about tools.  Humans have always been tool-makers, and tools are a big part of what folks go out to Pioneer Power to see.  From very simple tools, like the old corn planter, to the massive steam engines and threshing machines; tools are to make work easier.  So, I’ll picture some old tools and use them to illustrate my point.

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     This first tool was tied to a heavy stick and used as a club by the Sioux Indians in Minnesota.  It is amazing to think that a mere 180 years ago, most of the residents of Minnesota were still living in the Stone Age, and the best tools they had were hewn out of stone.  This club was primitive and crude, but you’d be much better off hunting or meeting an enemy with this in hand than without it.

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     The early settlers had iron tools, but they weren’t able to bring much from the old country in those old trunks that you now see in antique stores.  And in their first years here, the old pioneers weren’t able to afford much.  So a few metal tools were brought and used to make wooden tools, such as this old pitch fork.  The whole thing was carved out of a single piece of wood.  It makes me wonder about the story behind it.  Was this a particularly poor farmer who was forced to depend on this instead of buying a better one, or is this what all the earliest pioneers used at first?  Either way, I am sure the maker of this pitchfork told all his neighbors of his good luck in finding such a suitable piece of wood.

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     This is an item from not all that long ago. Before refrigerators and freezers, saws like this were needed to cut blocks of ice out of lakes and rivers over the winter.  Those blocks were then packed in sawdust for use in the ‘icebox’ throughout the rest of the year.

     Looking at these tools, and thinking about their use, makes me think about the hands that once held them, used them, and worked with them to make a life– we might even say, to stay alive.

     Think about the day that hand corn planter was bought new at the store.  The old farmer probably had to save up for it, and then all excited, brought it home and said to his wife, “Look at this ma!  Just think how much time this is going to save.  I’ll be done planting in no time at all this spring.”

     Or, imagine an old pioneer, out in the pasture getting the cows in for milking when he saw some tree branches, or roots perhaps, and could visualize a new pitch fork.  So he took it home, and then, that night by the fireplace in the house, started whittling away.

     Or think of who might have used that corn husking knife.  Maybe it was a teenage boy, spending all day in the brisk Fall air, going up and down the rows, harvesting one cob at a time, all day, all week, just looking forward to the family’s once a week trip to town on Friday night when he’d see his friends.  All the while, he’d be day-dreaming, thinking about when he would be old enough to leave that dumb old farm and get some other kind of work.  He had been hearing about something new in the big city– cars.  That’s what he wanted to do.  He wanted to work on cars.  And then he was going to live in town, not just go there on Friday evening.  Husking corn cobs was repetitious, not requiring any thought, and it left a young boy with lots of time to think and to dream.  And he knew he wasn’t going to be doing that boring work all his life.

     And I’d like to know the story of that old Sioux club.  Stone age technology did not change much over the centuries, and a rock like that would last a long time.  So I wonder when this might have been made.  It could be a thousand years old.  It may even have been made, used for a couple hundred years, then lost for a couple hundred years, and then found again.  What was it all used for?  Perhaps pounding the stakes in for the tepee, or for building the bracket over the camp fire to roast rabbits on.  Was it also used in hunting, or in defense against wild animals?  I wonder if it was it ever used on a human head.

     We can imagine all sorts of things about those who used these tools, and the other tools at Pioneer Power.  But of one thing we can be certain.  The hard working hands that first held these items are working no more, but are now still, dead and cold, and folded together in the grave, down in that black earth that they once walked on, till under, and fought over.  Another thing we can be certain of is that all of the hands that handle these items today will also one day be still and down in that same dark earth.  Our tools are made of stronger stuff than we are.  With a little care they can go on and on, to new owners to use or to display at a threshing bee.  

     But we are so much more fragile.  No matter how much we take care of ourselves, we won’t last.  The Bible says we vanish like a mist.  I think about that every time I go to an estate auction.  There, spread out over the yard, are the tools and furniture and possessions of a lifetime.  It is all still there; but the person who owned those items and used them and cherished them has vanished.  Our tools go on, but we don’t.

     People go to Threshing Bees and to museums to remember the past; and one of the ways we remember the past is by looking at the tools and possessions of those who lived before us and are now gone.

     This theme of remembering is also a big theme in the Bible.  God wants you to remember a few things about him and what he has done for you.  Not only that, he has even given you some tools to help in that remembering.  (continued…)

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James 4:14b  —  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

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Time, like an ever rolling stream,
soon bears us all away;
we fly forgotten, as a dream
dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
still be our guard while troubles last,
and our eternal home.

–Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

1235) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb1)

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From my favorite book of prayers, A Diary of Private Prayer, 1949, by John Baillie, Church of Scotland pastor and theologian, (1886-1960); containing a morning and evening prayer for thirty-one days (adapted).

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MORNING PRAYER (Eighth Day)

O God, who in love and pity sent us Jesus Christ to lighten our darkness, give me wisdom to profit by the words He spoke, and grace to follow in the steps He trod.

Jesus Christ said, “When you pray, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them.”  O God, give me grace now so to do.

Jesus Christ said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  O God, give me grace today to think not of what I can get, but of what I can give.

Jesus Christ said, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”  O God, grant that what I give may be given without self-congratulation, and without thought of praise or reward.

Jesus Christ said, “Enter through the narrow gate.”  O God, give me grace this day to keep to the narrow path of duty and honorable dealing.

Jesus Christ said, “Judge not.”  O God, give me grace this day first to take the log from my own eye, before I regard the speck that is in my brother’s eye.

Jesus Christ said, “What will it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  O God, give me grace so to live this day that, whatever else I lose, I may not lose my soul.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER (Fourth Day)

O Lord, before whose eyes all human hearts lie bare and open, forbid that I should seek to hide from Thee anything that I have this day done or thought or imagined.  What must forever be hidden from the knowledge of others, let me now openly acknowledge in Thy presence.  What no proper shame kept me from committing, let no false shame keep me now from confessing.

O Lord, whose tender mercies are over all Thy works, humbly and sorrowfully I crave Thy forgiveness for the sins of this day:

For every weakening and defiling thought to which my mind has given harbor…

For every word spoken in haste or anger…

For every failure of self-control…

For every stumbling-block which by deed or example I have set in another’s way…

For every opportunity lost…

For every blessing thanklessly received…

For loitering feet and a procrastinating will…

And for _____________ …

Grant that as the days go by, Thy Spirit may more and more rule in my heart, giving me victory over these and all other sinful ways.

To Thy loving guardianship, O heavenly Father, I commend all those who are dear to me, especially ___________…

Bless all those among whom my lot is cast, and grant them a satisfying sense of Thy reality and power.  Be with all those who this night are in any peril or distress.  Be in every sore heart, in every stricken home, beside every bed of pain, giving to all the blessing of Thy peace.  Amen.

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Psalm 88:13  —  I cry to you for help, Lordin the morning my prayer comes before you.

Psalm 55:16-17  —  As for me, I call to God, and the Lord saves me.  Evening, morning, and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.

Psalm 32:5  —  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

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PSALM 86:1-7…11-13:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lordlisten to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.

Teach me your way, Lordthat I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.

1234) A Former Atheist’s Testimony

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Andrew Klavan  (1954- )  Novelist, Screenplay writer, Columnist

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By Andrew Klavan, in Christianity Today, September 2016, pages 79-80.

     One midnight in late winter, at age 13, I rose stealthily from my bed.  Moving quietly so as not to wake my parents and three brothers, I removed a leather box from the storage cabinet built into my wall.  It was filled with jewelry, watches, pens, and savings bonds— thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts.  They had been given to me that summer for my bar mitzvah.

     For a long time, I had marveled at these riches, great wealth for a boy in the 1960s, even in the well-to-do suburb in which I lived.  From time to time, I would open the box and arrange the jewelry in its compartments, touching the rattling identity bracelets, tie pins, and cufflinks.  I would silently estimate the value of the haul.

     But over time, that pleasure soured and died.  The truth was, I had hated my bar mitzvah.  The majesty and profundity of the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony— the majesty and profundity of Judaism itself— were lost on me.  Or rather, they had never been instilled in me, for the simple reason that my parents did not believe in God.

     My homemaker mother was, to the day she died, as certain an atheist as I have ever met.  My father, an antic radio comedian, hedged his bets a little:  it was not in his nature to defy a Gigantic Invisible Jew who could give you cancer just by thinking about it.  Both my parents acknowledged that they had schooled my brothers and me in Jewish practices only in service to tradition.  Their motivations were racial loyalty and religious guilt, not bringing us closer to the divine.  Despite our dutiful celebration of Jewish holidays, God had no living presence in our family.  We did not say grace before meals or prayers before bedtime. We did not read the Bible at home or discuss morality in terms of God’s nature or his will.

     This rendered our Jewish observances absurd.  Hebrew school, synagogue, the whole magnificent 4,000-year-old structure of Jewish theology and tradition:  Without God, what was it but an empty temple, its foundations resting on nothing, its spires pointing only toward the dark?

     I was a boy who insisted that ideas, philosophies, even my daydreams make sense.  Before I could imagine myself as some great warrior or superhero, the fantasy needed a logical context.  This was good training for a kid who would one day become a writer of adventure and suspense novels, but it also taught me that words and thoughts should have integrity.  I could not rid myself of the notion that when I stood at the synagogue podium for my bar mitzvah, when I declared myself a member of the Jewish faith, I was lying, betraying my deepest sense of self.

     Why did I speak words I did not believe?  Why did I sing those Hebrew prayers I did not even understand?  And so, that winter night, after my parents and brothers had gone to bed, I crept quietly outside with the leather box full of riches.

     There, beneath the kitchen window, beside the cellar door, two garbage receptacles were sunk into a concrete platform.  I knelt, feeling the rough, cold cement through the knees of my pajamas.  I pressed the foot pedal to raise the lid.  With my other hand, I stuffed the box into a paper trash bag sodden with coffee grounds and egg shells.  I worked it deep into the debris so that it would not be discovered before the garbage men came in the morning.

     With this gesture, I hoped to leave behind not only Judaism but religious life entirely.  No more hypocrisy and empty show.  For most of the next 35 years, I remained a philosophical agnostic and a practical atheist.  No shock of revelation changed me either.  I never saw a flash of light like Paul on the road to Damascus.  I never heard a voice telling me to “take up and read” like Augustine under the fig tree.  Jesus never appeared to me while I lay drunk in the gutter.

     And yet, looking back on my life, I see that Christ was beckoning to me at every turn.  When I was a child, he was there in the kindness of a Christian babysitter and the magic of a Christmas Eve spent at her house.  When I was a troubled young man contemplating suicide, he was in the voice of a Christian baseball player who gave a radio interview that inspired me to go on.  And always, he was in the day-to-day miracle of my marriage, a lifelong romance that taught me the reality of love and slowly led me to contemplate the greater love that was its source and inspiration.  

     But perhaps most important for a novelist who insisted that ideas should make sense, Christ came to me in stories.  Slowly, I came to understand that his life, words, sacrifice, and resurrection formed the hidden logic behind every novel, movie, or play that touched my deepest mind.

     I was reading a story when that logic finally kicked in.  I was in my 40s, lying in bed with one of Patrick O’Brian’s great seafaring adventure novels.  One of the characters, whom I admired, said a prayer before going to sleep, and I thought to myself, Well, if he can pray, so can I.  I laid the book aside and whispered a three-word prayer in gratitude for the contentment I’d found, and for the work and people I loved:  “Thank you, God.”

     It was a small and even prideful prayer:  a self-impressed intellectual’s hesitant experiment with faith.  God’s response was an act of extravagant grace.

     I woke the next morning and everything had changed.  There was a sudden clarity and brightness to familiar faces and objects; they were alive with meaning and with my own delight in them.  I called this experience “the joy of my joy,” and it came to me again whenever I prayed.  Naturally I began to pray every day.  And over time, this joy of my joy became a constant companion: a steady sense of vitality and beauty that endured even in periods of sorrow and pain.

     I was living in the beautiful Southern California town of Santa Barbara when I realized that prayer— that God— had transformed my life utterly, giving me a depth and pleasure of experience I had never known.  I drove up into the hills one day, and with the forest and the city and the sea rolling by my windows, I asked God, “How can I thank you for what you’ve done for me?  What could I possibly offer you in return?”

     And as clearly as if he had spoken aloud, God answered, “Now, you should be baptized.”

     I was stunned.  Nothing could have been further from my mind.  I was a man of the coasts and cities, at home among the snarks and cynics of postmodern times.  I was a realist who believed in science and reason; a worldling who loved sex, violent movies, politics, and a good single malt scotch.  I was— I am— proud of my Jewish heritage.  I feared that becoming a Christian would estrange me from my past, my parents, my culture, and from reality itself.

     I was not thinking about sin and redemption, not yet.  I was not worried about heaven and hell.  Having a personal relationship with Jesus was only a faint suggestion of a thought.  No, all I wanted was to know the truth about the world, about this God who had done so much for me.

     Over the following months, I realized that the voice that had spoken into my heart knew me better than I knew myself.  Whatever problems it would cause with my family and friends, whatever difficulties it would bring in my career, I knew I had to be baptized.

     My bar mitzvah had been an empty ritual, devoid of God— and truth.  But my baptism was the outward expression of a deep and authentic inner conviction.

     The moment I rose from my knees by the baptismal font, I knew I had stepped through some invisible barrier between myself and a remarkable new journey.  Within a week or so, my wife noticed it too:  a new joy and easiness.

     My soul had found its northern star.  And that star still leads me on.

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Psalm 73:21-23a  —  When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you.  Nevertheless I am continually with you…

Acts 16:30b-31a  —  (He) asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”

Acts 9:18  —  Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again.  He got up and was baptized.

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A PRAYER FOR UNBELIEVERS by John Henry Newman, Catholic cardinal and theologian  (1801-1890):

O Lord Jesus Christ, upon the Cross You did say: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And this surely, O my God, is the condition of vast multitudes among us now.  They deny that there is a God, but they know not what they are doing.  They renounce all faith in You, the Savior of man.  They mislead the wandering, they frighten the weak, they corrupt the young.  Others of them have a wish to be religious, but mistake error for truth.  They go after fancies of their own, and they seduce others and keep them from You.  They know not what they are doing, but You can make them know.  Teach them now, open their eyes here, before the future comes; give them faith in what they must see hereafter, if they will not believe in it here.  Amen.

1233) An Atheist’s Testimony

“Coveting Luke’s Faith” by Dana Tierney, in The New York Times Magazine, January 11, 2004.

     When I was a child in Sunday school, I would ask searching questions like ”Angels can fly up in heaven, but how do clouds hold up pianos?” and get the same puzzling response about how that was not important, what was important was that Jesus died for our sins and if we accepted him as our savior, when we died, we would go to heaven, where we’d get everything we wanted.  Some children in my class wondered why anyone would hang on a cross with nails stuck through his hands to help anyone else.  I wondered how Santa Claus knew what I wanted for Christmas, even though I never wrote him a letter.  Maybe he had a tape recorder hidden in every chimney in the world.

     This literal-mindedness has stuck with me; one result of it is that I am unable to believe in God.  Most of the other atheists I know seem to feel freed or proud of their unbelief, as if they’ve cleverly refused to be sold snake oil.  But over the years, I’ve come to feel I’m missing out.  My friends and relatives who rely on God — the real believers, not just the churchgoers — have an expansiveness of spirit.  When they walk along a stream, they don’t just see water falling over rocks; the sight fills them with ecstasy.  They see a realm of hope beyond this world.  I just see a babbling brook.  I don’t get the message.  My husband, who was reared in a devout Catholic family and served as an altar boy, is also firmly grounded on this earth.  He doesn’t even have the desire to believe.  So other than baptizing our son to reassure our families, we’ve skated over the issue of faith.

     I assumed we had stranded our 4-year-old son Luke in the same spiritually arid place we’d found ourselves in.  When my husband went to Iraq for several months, I thought Luke and I were in it together, a suddenly single mom and a nervous boy whose daddy was in a war zone.  I was numb with anxiety when I talked to my husband on his satellite phone; yet Luke was chatty and calm.  He missed his daddy, but he wasn’t scared.  He wanted to see pictures of Dad holding an AK-47.  I thought he was just too young to understand.

     Then one night Luke and I were watching television, and a story flashed on about a soldier home on leave for his wedding.  I tried to switch the channel, but Luke wanted to see, so I let him, thinking, ‘It’s a wedding; it’s fine.’  But the soldier started talking about how afraid he was of going back, how dangerous it was in Iraq.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Luke steeple his fingers and bow his head for a split second.  Surprised, I said, ”Sweetheart, what are you doing?”  He wouldn’t tell me, but a few minutes later, he did it again.  I said, ”You don’t have to tell me, but if you want to, I’m listening.”  Finally he confessed, ”I was saying a little prayer for Daddy.”

     ”That’s wonderful, Luke,” I murmured, abashed that we, or our modern world, somehow made him embarrassed to pray for his father in his own home.  It was as if that mustard seed of faith had found its way into our son and now he was revealing that he could move mountains.  Not in a church or as we gazed at the stars, but while we channel-surfed.  I was envious of him.  Luke wasn’t rattled, because he believed that God would bring his father home safely.  I was the only one stranded.

     Some people believe faith is a gift; for others, it’s a choice, a matter of spiritual discipline.  I have a friend who was reared to believe, and he does.  But his faith has wavered.  He has struggled to hang onto it and to pass it along to his children.  Another friend of mine never goes to church because she’s a single mother who doesn’t have the gas money.  But she once told me about a day when she was washing oranges as the sun streamed onto them.  As she peeled one, the smell rose to her face, and she felt she received the Holy Spirit.  ”He sank into my bones,” she recounted.  ”I lifted my palms upward, feeling filled with love.”

     After I saw Luke praying for his father in Iraq, I asked him when he first began to believe in God.  ”I don’t know,” he said.  ”I’ve always known he is there.”  My husband did return from Iraq safely, but if something had happened to his father, Luke would have known Dad was in heaven, waiting for us.  He doesn’t suffer from a void like the anguished father in Mark 9:23-24: ”Jesus said unto him, ‘If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.’  And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”’  For Luke, all things are possible.  At the end of his life, he will be reunited in heaven with his heroes and loved ones, Mom and Dad and George Washington, his grandparents and Buzz Lightyear.  Luke’s prayers can stretch to infinity and beyond, but I am limited to one:  Help thou mine unbelief.

Image result for reaching for god images

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Mark 9:22b-24  —  (The boy’s father said), “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  Jesus asked, “‘If you can’?  Everything is possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 12:34b  —  …(Jesus said), “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Isaiah 11:6d  —  …And a little child will lead them.

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A PRAYER FOR UNBELIEVERS by John Henry Newman, Catholic cardinal and theologian  (1801-1890):

O Lord Jesus Christ, upon the Cross You did say: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And this surely, O my God, is the condition of vast multitudes among us now.  They deny that there is a God, but they know not what they are doing.  They renounce all faith in You, the Savior of man.  They mislead the wandering, they frighten the weak, they corrupt the young.  Others of them have a wish to be religious, but mistake error for truth.  They go after fancies of their own, and they seduce others and keep them from You.  They know not what they are doing, but You can make them know.  Teach them now, open their eyes here, before the future comes; give them faith in what they must see hereafter, if they will not believe in it here.  Amen.

1232) Counting the Cost

            Nadia was raised in a strict Muslim home in Pakistan.  She remembers even as an eleven-year old being curious about the Christian church in her neighborhood.  She knew better than to ask her parent’s anything about it.  They had already firmly warned her to ignore those infidels and their church, because Christians were an affront to their Muslim faith.  But her parents’ opposition only served to arouse her curiosity even more.  One time when Nadia was walking by the church she heard the pastor over the church loudspeaker saying that Jesus was ‘the Way and the Truth and the Life.’  She wondered what that meant.

            As a teenager, Nadia became friends with a girl in her neighborhood named Rachel.  Rachel was a Christian and a member of that church, so she knew all about Jesus.  Nadia was happy to have this friend who could answer the many questions that had been on her mind for so long.  First of all she asked Rachel, “Why is your pastor always talking about Jesus?”

            Rachel answered, “Jesus is God, who created us all, and who became a man and lived on this earth.  He loves you and he desires a relationship with you.”

            Nadia wondered what Jesus expected of her if she wanted to be a part of his kingdom— what she had to do and what rules and rituals she was required to perform.  Rachel told her that Jesus first of all wants her to know of his love for her, and then to have her heart and her trust.  Then, she would want to obey.

            Rachel gave her a Bible, which Nadia kept hidden and read only when no one else was home.  She learned that God was a God of grace and love and compassion.  This God would leave the 99 other sheep to save just one— perhaps even her.  This God was quite unlike the God she was raised to believe in, and she wanted to be a part of his kingdom.  She prayed and placed her trust in Jesus, and would occasionally sneak off to attend the church.  Time went by.

            One day, Nadia’s brother discovered her going to church.  Her flew into a rage, grabbed her by the hair, dragged her home, and beat her severely.  He insisted that she deny Christ, but she refused.  He picked up a wooden bowl and slammed it into her face, splitting the skin above her eye.  As blood poured out, her shoved her into her bedroom and locked the door.  He kept her there for weeks, entering only to give her small amounts of food and water, along with more beatings.  Not one of her other family members objected to his brutality, or did anything to help her. 

            Finally, Nadia escaped and found refuge with the pastor and his family.  Being a former Muslim in a town where she was known put her and the pastor and the whole congregation at risk.  So the Christians helped her to move to a distant city where people would not know she was a convert.  There she was baptized, and met and married a Christian man.

            When Nadia’s parents found out where she was and learned of her marriage to a Christian, they registered kidnapping complaints against the man.  They claimed he had lured her away from her Muslim faith.  Her brother attacked beat her husband.  Knowing that the authorities would rule against them, they had to go into hiding.  Again, a Christian congregation helped them move, find a home, get settled, and find work.  They remain strong and faithful and thankful to God, despite the ongoing danger that Nadia’s family will again find them.

            In Luke 12 Jesus describes how families will be divided because of him.  Two chapters later Jesus talks about counting the cost to follow him, and being willing to give up everything to follow him, and about bearing your cross for him. 

            Did you count the cost before you became a Christian?  I didn’t.  I couldn’t even count at all when I became a Christian, being baptized at two weeks old.  Yes, I grew up in the faith and made it my own.  But I still have not had to give up everything to follow Jesus, and my cross has not been too heavy compared to the crosses that many people have to bear for their faith.  They indeed have to count the cost before believing in Jesus.  Nadia knew what she was in for when she started going to that Christian church.  She knew the hostility from her family and from the whole town.  And she did have to give up everything to bear her heavy cross.

            James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”  We are all tested, though in different ways.  Christians in many Muslim areas are being tested by persecution, danger, constant threats, and even death.  They are being tested by the loss of everything.  In this country, we are more likely to be tested by the spiritual danger of having everything.  We are safe, we are secure, we have good health care, we are not being forced to leave our homes, we do not have to worry about our children being kidnapped and sold into slavery, we don’t have to worry about meeting secretly to worship, and even the poorest of us is wealthy by the standards of much of the world.  But having all of that brings other temptations and a different kind of testing.  Our persecuted sisters and brothers are forced to depend on God.  They have no other hope.  We might find it easy to believe we are able to manage life on our own, looking to God only when we think we need him.  They risk their lives to worship.  Here, many people worship if they feel like it and if it fits into their schedule.  You will hear from pastors in Iraq and Syria and refugee camps how their worship services are growing.  Most churches in the ‘more fortunate’ nations are in decline.  We are all tempted, though by different situations. 

     We must all pray for the faith to meet our various tests.  Referring to those suffering for their faith Hebrews 11:34 says, “Their weakness was turned into strength.”  Perhaps our test is to make sure our strength does not turn into weakness.

(The story of Nadia is one of 48 stories of Christians facing persecution from Islamic extremists collected in the book I Am ‘n’ published by ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’, available at http://www.persecution.com )

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People gather at the site of suicide attack on a church in Peshawa

All Saints Christian Church in Peshawa, Pakistan; the site of a 2013 suicide bombing which killed 85 and wounded 140.

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Luke 14:26-28  —  (Jesus said), “If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.  For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?”

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

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Heavenly Father, I thank you that you have counted me worthy to suffer for the sake of my Lord Jesus Christ, and I give you thanks that I may partake in the promise of eternal life.  Amen.

–Polycarp  (born, 69 A. D. – burned at the stake, 155 A. D.)

1231) One Woman’s Mid-Life Changes

Maggie Gobran (1949- ): The Mother Teresa of Cairo

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By Eric Metaxas, March 11, 2015 blog at:  www.breakpoint.org

     Next to the Bible itself, perhaps the best source of spiritually nourishing reading material is what many call “the lives of the saints.”  That is, stories of fellow believers in ages past whose extraordinary lives convict us, inspire us, and draw us closer to Jesus.

     Perhaps you have read Augustine’s Confessions.  Or maybe Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.  Or Elisabeth Elliot’s books about her missionary husband Jim Elliot, who found martyrdom in the Amazon.  And dare I add Bonhoeffer?

     While it’s great reading about the lives of the faithful who have gone before us, I find it especially inspiring to read about those who still walk among us.

     And inspired is what you’ll be if you pick up a copy of a new book released just this week by Maggie Gobran, the so-called “Mother Teresa of Egypt.”  The book is called Mama Maggie: The Untold Story of One Woman’s Mission to Love the Forgotten Children of Egypt’s Garbage Slums.

     In this sense, Mama Maggie is very much like Mother Teresa:  She has given her life to serve Christ by loving the poorest of the poor.  And like Mother Teresa, she has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times, including this year.  We’ll see what happens.

     But there the comparisons should end.  Mama Maggie is Egyptian, a Coptic Christian.  Married with two children, Mama Maggie was never a nun; in fact, she came from a wealthy Egyptian family, was a very successful businesswoman and university professor, and had a love for fine jewelry, cars, and clothing.

     But as detailed in the book, all that changed with a visit with some church friends to one of Cairo’s garbage slums.  In the midst of unbelievable filth, stench, and depravity— scenes we cannot imagine here in the U.S.— lived thousands of men, women, and children, many of whom are Coptic Christians like Maggie.  And Maggie was instantly drawn to them.  Especially to the children.

     After repeated visits, Maggie reached a decision point.  She could remain a professor and continue to enjoy the material fruits of her labor.  But, as is told in the book, the thought hit her:  “We don’t choose where or when to be born.  We don’t choose where or when to die.  But we can choose either to help others or turn away.”

     “God wanted to promote me,” she relates.  “He said ‘leave the best, the smartest, and go to the poorest of the poor.’”

     And that is what she has done with the determination and savvy of a top-flight businesswoman— and with the profound, tender, and intensely personal love of Jesus.  The organization she founded, Stephen’s Children, builds schools and vocational centers, runs free medical clinics, houses orphans, and teaches children about Jesus.  Because of her obedience, loving heart, and humbleness, Stephen’s Children now has over 1,500 workers and volunteers, and has helped over 25,000 families.

     In fact, what the authors Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn convey so powerfully in Mama Maggie is Maggie’s serenity, her deep prayer life, and her trust in God, even when dealing with the brokenness, the child abuse, the disease, the catastrophic injuries she and the staff and volunteers of Stephen’s Children encounter every day in the garbage slums.

     This is a remarkable book about a remarkable sister in the Lord.  The majority of the book’s proceeds will go to Stephen’s Children, to help Mama Maggie continue her work to bring real hope and help in Jesus’ name to the children who live in the slums of Cairo.

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“I liked to be elegant.  But I found to be elegant comes from the inside, to love.  With God’s grace I left everything and found Him shining, waiting for me with a crown of love.”

“We don’t choose where to be born, but we do choose either to be sinners or saints; to be nobodies, or the heroes.  If you want to be a hero, do what God wants you to do.”

–Mother Maggie

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I Samuel 12:24  —  Be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

Romans 12:10-13  —  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

Matthew 23:11  —  (Jesus said), “The greatest among you will be your servant.”

Mark 10:45a  —  (Jesus said), “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.”

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O Lord, let my life by useful, and my death be happy; let me live according to thy laws, and die with confidence in thy mercy.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

1230) What is God Waiting For?

Isaiah 6:11a  —   Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”

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By Randy Alcorn, in 90 Days of God’s Goodness.

     For many, the most difficult problem with evil is its persistence.  God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice” (Acts 17:31).  But why a future day of judgment?

     Barbara Brown Taylor phrased it, “What kind of God allows the innocent to suffer while the wicked pop their champagne corks and sing loud songs?”

     We may say, “Yes, Lord, we accept your wisdom in permitting evil and suffering for a season— but enough is enough.  Why do you let it continue?

     The Bible echoes the same sentiment.  Jeremiah said, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1).

     Why doesn’t God simply reward each good and punish each evil as it happens?  Because God’s justice is not a vending machine in which a coin of righteousness immediately produces reward or a coin of evil yields swift retribution.  Scripture assures us justice is coming.  Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and incubates our faith.  When reward and punishment are immediate, no faith in God is required or cultivated.

     The wheels of justice may seem to turn slowly, but they turn surely.  Some rewards of goodness and punishments of evil come in this life.  And though ultimate rewards and punishments await the final judgment, considerable justice— both reward and retribution— is dispensed upon death, when God’s children immediately experience the joy of his presence, and the unrepentant suffer the first justice of Hell (see Luke 16:19–31).  This means that the maximum duration of injustice experienced by any person cannot exceed his life span.

     Don’t we give thanks for God’s patience with Saul, the self-righteous killer who became Paul?  Or John Newton, the evil slave trader who accepted God’s amazing grace and wrote the song that countless millions have sung?

     God drew me to Himself in 1969.  But what if Christ had answered the prayers of many in those days and had returned and brought final judgment in 1968?  Or in 1953, the year before I was born?  Where would I be for eternity?  Where would you be?

     I’m grateful God was patient enough with fallen humanity to allow the world to continue until I was created, and then continue further until I became part of his family.

     Aren’t you grateful for the same?  If God answered our prayers to return today, who might be lost that he plans to save tomorrow?

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Jeremiah 12:1  —  You are always righteous, Lordwhen I bring a case before you.  Yet I would speak with you about your justice:  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?  Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Psalm 90:13  —  Relent, Lord!  How long will it be?  Have compassion on your servants.

Habakkuk 1:2-4  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.  Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.  The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

Revelation 6:9-11  —  When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained.  They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”  Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

II Peter 3:8-9  —  But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

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PSALM 13:1-3, 5-6:

How long, Lord?  Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

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Lord, you are the potter; we are the clay.  You have the right to do what you choose.  But if we look carefully at what you choose, we may see wisdom and purpose and mercy even in what we don’t fully understand.  Thanks for not answering the prayers for Christ’s immediate return offered by the generations that preceded me and my family.  I’d hate to think of us not existing, of not being able to love you and serve you and glorify you forever.  Amen.

–Randy Alcorn

1229) Afraid of the Dark

By Jonathan Parnell, posted February 9, 2013 at:  www.desringgod.org

     My oldest daughter isn’t sleeping well.  It’s the dark.  From fear of what might be under her bed, to who might be looking through her window, she has her reasons for preferring the lights on.

     In fact, she has started a new nightly routine.  After the house is settled and her parents are quiet, presumably asleep, she secretly slips out of her room to flip on the nearby hallway light and then returns to bed.  Somehow she finds a measure of comfort from the crease of light between the floor and the bottom of her door.

     But she shouldn’t be doing this.  The rule is to stay in bed.  And a few nights ago I caught her red-handed.

     I was standing quietly in the dark hall and heard her scurrying around behind her door.  She didn’t know I was there, and I suspected she was going to pull the hall light stunt.  Sure enough, the door slowly cracked open.  I have her, I thought.  But she didn’t move.  She didn’t come turn on the light.  She was frozen.  There, inside the frame of her door, she peered in silence at me, a black silhouette of a stranger for all she knew.  Then she started to cry.  I quickly flipped the light switch.  “Sweetie, it’s me,” I said, picking her up in my arms.  And just like that, she was fine.  The light was on.  She saw who I was.  I hugged her with love.

     The whole scene transformed when the light came on.  That light uncovered my identity.  Once blinded by darkness, she soon discovered that the figure in the hallway, appearing bigger and stronger than her, was actually her dad who loves her and would spend his every conceivable resource to protect her.

     Revelation was the key.  She had to see who I was.

     Do you remember what it is like to be in the dark with God?

     So much of our lives — and the entire lives of some — are spent hauntingly aware of some strange presence down a pitch-black hallway.  We know he is there.  We recognize some silhouette of deity.  We see some figure of a being our conscience says is bigger and stronger.  But we don’t truly know him.  And we won’t truly know him unless he turns on the light.  Unless he reveals himself.

     The prophets of Baal know what it’s like to be in the dark.  In one of the saddest scenes in all of Scripture, 1 Kings 18:28–29, hundreds of these prophets gathered to see their god.  It was a historic showdown between Elijah, the Lord’s prophet, and 450 “spokesmen” for the false god Baal.  The petition was simple: send fire from heaven.  Whoever answers is the true God (1 Kings 18:24).  And so the prophets of Baal stepped up to the plate.

And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. (1 Kings 18:26)

     That’s not a good start.  So they tried harder.  The Bible tells us that they cried aloud and cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out (1 Kings 18:28).  Until the middle of the day, they limped around bleeding and crying out for their god to hear them, to say something.  Imagine that scene: 450 wounded, weeping prophets sliced up their flesh in hopes of receiving the slightest gesture from their god.

“But there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention” (1 Kings 18:29).

     They were stuck in the dark.  There was nothing to see.  There is no light to reveal a no-god.  The abiding darkness answers itself.

     But there’s no such darkness between the Christian and his Lord.  That’s not our story.  In fact, it’s the reverse.  Rather than 450 prophets with wounds all over their bodies and their blood gushing out, we see our God hanging on a cross with wounds all over his body, his blood gushing out.  Rather than the horrific scene of fools seeking to hear from a false god, we see the most preeminent display of love when the real God spoke to a world of fools.

     We were in the dark.  We deserved nothing more.  And then, in unspeakable grace, the sovereign God of the universe reached up to turn on the light.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8).

     His voice intruded the defeated darkness.  He reached down and picked us up in his arms.  “It’s me,” he said.  And then we learn that this God, bigger and stronger than we could ever imagine, hasn’t spared his greatest resource to not only protect us but ensure our everlasting joy (Romans 8:32).

     The light is on.  We see who he is.  We don’t have to be afraid.

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Have courage for the great sorrows, and patience for the small ones.  And when you have laboriously done your tasks, go to sleep in peace.  God is awake.

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John 8:12  —  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

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A THREE-HUNDRED YEAR-OLD BEDTIME PRAYER:

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

And if I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.  Amen.