1268) Dealing With Envy (part one of two)

Image result for images of envy

The next two meditations are adapted from DAILY HOPE, Rick Warren’s daily devotional blog (September 23-27, 2016).  You may read past devotional readings, and sign up to receive DAILY HOPE at:  

http://www.pastorrick.com/devotional

———————————

FOUR WAYS ENVY DAMAGES YOUR LIFE

     The number one thing that holds you back from God’s purpose and mission for your life is a very subtle sin.  It’s not lust or pride or anger.  It’s not worry or fear or discouragement.  In fact, you would probably never even think of it because it is so insidious we don’t realize its damaging effect on our lives.  It’s envy...

     You need to understand the four ways envy damages your life so that you can eliminate it from your life.

  1. Envy denies your uniqueness.  Psalm 139:13-15 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb …. Your workmanship is marvelous …. You watched me as I was … woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born” (NLT).  Envy blinds you to your own giftedness and uniqueness.  God didn’t make you to be like somebody else.  God made you to be you.
  2. Envy divides your attention.  You cannot follow God’s purpose and focus on other people at the same time.  You get a divided allegiance, and then you don’t get anything done in your life.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”
  3. Envy wastes your time and energy.  Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed:  it is because they envy the things their neighbors have.  But it is useless.  It is like chasing the wind(GNT).
  4. Envy leads to every other sin.  Envy can destroy everything and everyone around you.  The Bible says, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16 NIV).  At the heart of the problem is a problem of the heart.  Envy is a heart problem.  Any time you envy you have gotten your worship misguided, because envy is a form of worship.  It says, “I desire that.  I want that.  I love that.  I want to live for that.”  That’s called worship.  And any time that item is not God, it becomes an idol.  If you’re going to eliminate envy, you have to ask, “What am I worshiping?  Am I worshiping God and his grace in my life?  Or am I worshiping what I want from other people?”

COMPARING IS THE ROOT OF ENVY

     Comparing is the root of all envy.  If you can get rid of comparing in your life, you can get rid of envy in your life.

     Here’s the problem:  comparing is our favorite indoor sport.  We compare everything.  We compare our size, our shape, our color, how we talk, our intelligence.  We compare our families, our kids, our jobs, our talents, and even our lawns.

     God warns about the foolishness of comparing yourself to anybody else:  “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves… They are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV).

     Every time you compare, you’re going to fall guilty to either pride or envy.  You’re always going to either find somebody who’s doing a better job than you, and you get full of envy; or, you’re going to find that you’re doing a better job than somebody, and you get full of pride.  Pride or envy is always the result of comparing.  And God says it’s foolish.  You shouldn’t do it…

     The Bible says in Galatians 6:4, “Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (TLB). 

     When you get to Heaven, God is not going to say, “Why weren’t you more like this person or that person?”  He’s going to ask, “Why weren’t you more like you?”  You can’t focus on your purpose while you’re focusing on other people.

     When you get to Heaven you’re not going to be judged on talent you didn’t have.  You’re not going to be judged on opportunities you weren’t given.  You are going to be judged on how you lived and what you did with what you were given.

     There’s no need to compare yourself with others.  God has called you to be the best you can possibly be given the background, experiences, and talent that he gave you.

LOVE CELEBRATES GOD’S GOODNESS TO OTHERS

     The Bible tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 ESV). Have you noticed that the second part of that sentence is easy, but the first part can be really tough?

     When somebody’s having a tough time, it’s easy to be sympathetic.  It’s easy to encourage people when they’re down.  But sometimes what we can’t stand is when they get a promotion.  We’re not very good at handling the success of other people.  Rather than rejoicing in it, we resent it.  In fact, we might even wish bad things would happen to other people, because somehow we think that if somebody else’s candle can get blown out, ours will shine brighter.

     There’s plenty of God’s grace to go around.  If God wants to give other people more than God gives me, so what?  I shouldn’t even worry about what he wants to give other people.  I should worry about what I’m doing with what I’ve been given.  (continued…)

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

A PRAYER FROM PROVERBS 30:7-9: 

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

1267) God Disregards Buddhist Principles

Image result for images of buddha quotes suffering

—————————-

“To free yourself from suffering, free yourself from attachments.”  –Buddha

—————————-

By Elizabeth Sunshine, posted September 19, 2016 at:  http://www.breakpoint.org.  Sunshine is an MTS student at the University of Notre Dame with a focus in Biblical Studies.

———————————-

     Have you ever wondered if you’d be happier if only you didn’t care about things so much?  I have.

     Last year I led discussion groups as a teaching assistant.  I felt horribly anxious before class and often felt disappointed in my performance afterward.  I also had a hard time giving constructive criticism.  The source of all these problems was my desperate desire to be liked.  I wanted the students to think I was a great teacher, which, ironically, probably made me a worse teacher than I would have been otherwise.

     My experience would seem to demonstrate the Buddhist claim that non-attachment is the way to avoid suffering.  If I were less attached to my students’ opinions, I would not have suffered that anxiety.

     Buddhism is a remarkably consistent, well-thought-out worldview designed to tackle one of the hardest problems human beings face:  the problem of suffering.  For that very reason, it sheds light on the Christian faith, from which it differs not only in its explanation of how the world works, but also in its even more fundamental conviction that suffering is always to be avoided.

     The problem of evil is usually posed as an objection to belief in God, but actually, it’s a problem that every belief system needs to address.  Terrible things happen in the world, so any account of how the world works needs to explain evil and suffering.  Buddhists see suffering as the central feature of the world.  Everything, they say, is unsatisfactory, if for no other reason than that it is impermanent.  Nothing gives permanent happiness because nothing lasts permanently.

     Our problem, says Buddhism, is that we have desires for unsatisfactory things, desires that are doomed to be frustrated.  It is these desires that keep us trapped in the cycle of reincarnation, being born again and again in different bodies, all of which are doomed to suffer and die.  The only way to escape from suffering, then, is to let go of desires through practices such as meditation.  Buddhists are told to pursue non-attachment, a state without desire, which leads to enlightenment and an end to suffering.

     My teaching experience was an example of attachment leading to suffering.  Here is another.  I lived in Taiwan for three years, making many close friends.  Now that I’ve moved back to the U.S., I miss those friends horribly.  But I also love the people I’ve met here and would hate to leave my new community.  I’ve realized that I need to choose a career where I won’t have to move frequently because every time I do, it breaks my heart.

     Now, a Buddhist might claim that my problem is attachment to these people.  If I didn’t have such a strong emotional connection to them, leaving wouldn’t hurt so much.  That’s not to say I shouldn’t be kind; Buddhism instructs its practitioners to have compassion for all living things.  But Buddhist compassion is a sense of general benevolence, wishing well to all beings, rather than love for particular individuals.  This compassion may flow out into acts of kindness to individuals, but the concern should be spread among all beings equally.

     This is where Christianity and Buddhism diverge.  Christianity is particular.  We believe that God revealed Himself first to a specific nation (Israel) descended from a specific person (Abraham), in specific places (Mt. Sinai, among others).  He then took the next step and became human, a specific man named Jesus raised in Nazareth during the first century A.D.  He healed specific individuals who asked him for help, entrusted His most detailed teaching to 12 people, and died as atonement for sin— which means the specific morally wrong actions of individuals.

     You could say that all this attachment to particular individuals was God’s big mistake.  From all eternity, God existed in a state much like enlightenment, free from suffering and without attachments.  The members of the Trinity were bound only to each other through love, a love which could never disappoint because those involved are eternal, unchangeable, and perfectly good.

     But then God created a finite, temporal world and put finite, temporal humans in charge of it.  Not only that, but He became emotionally attached to the world, calling it good and telling the humans to fill and care for it.  He loved these humans deeply, but they chose not to love God back.  Human actions have been in Buddhist terminology “unsatisfactory,” to say the least.  Before long humanity became so evil that “God was sorry that he made man, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:6).

     To make a long story short, God eventually decided to solve the problem of human sin through . . . more attachments.  These attachments were called covenants, solemn promises confirming relationships between God and humans.  Again and again God committed Himself to bless individuals and, eventually a whole nation, Israel.

     But Israel repeatedly failed to follow God.  Many prophets describe God’s relationship to Israel as frustrating and even painful for Him.  Hosea compares God to a husband betrayed by his wife.  Jeremiah describes God as lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem, brought on by Israel’s sin.  Theologians tend to balk at the idea that God can experience pain, and certainly comparisons between God and humans work only by analogy.  But the deeply emotional language used of God is getting at something real.  Metaphors only work when there is an actual similarity, and if humans are made in the image of God, our emotions must parallel something in God’s being.

     So God experiences suffering because of His attachment to Israel.  Whereas in Buddhism attachment leads to reincarnation, in Christianity, that attachment leads to a unique form of incarnation.  God goes through a human life with all its weaknesses and frustrations and ultimately ends up suffering horribly and dying.  If only he’d listened to the Buddha and avoided attachment all that pain could have been avoided!

     But God knew exactly what He was doing.  From the moment of creation, God knew that humanity would sin, that Israel would frustrate him, and that He would become human and die for us.  None of this was a surprise.  God could have avoided it all, but chose not to.  And this gives us another way to think about suffering as well.  If God didn’t do everything in His power to avoid suffering, maybe we shouldn’t either.  Maybe pain can be redemptive.

     That’s not to say suffering is good.  Evil is still evil.  It just means that sometimes, evil backfires on itself, and God brings good about anyway.

     We shouldn’t seek out suffering.  But most of us don’t need to.  Buddhists are right that suffering is inevitable, and it is perfectly reasonable for them to hope for an end to suffering.  Christianity also promises an end to suffering when Christ returns and wipes every tear from our eyes.  But unlike Buddhism, Christianity also promises an end of suffering in the sense of a purpose or a goal.  Suffering is a tool in God’s hands that He uses to make us more like Christ and to undo the effects of sin.  Love can lead to suffering, but it also leads through suffering to a greater purpose.  It brings good out of evil.

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

Genesis 6:6  —  The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

Hosea 11:8  —  (God said), “How can I give you up…  How can I hand you over, Israel?…  My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.

John 3:16  —   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 11:35  —  Jesus wept.

Romans 5:8  —  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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

PSALM 118:1:

O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; His steadfast love endures forever.  Amen.

1266) Miscellaneous Prayers

Betende Hände

Praying Hands, 1508 by Albrecht Durer  (1471-1528)

—————–

O Merciful God, in your presence we confess our sinfulness, our shortcomings, and our offenses against you.  You alone know how often we have sinned in wandering from your ways, in wasting your gifts, and in forgetting your love.  Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we are ashamed and sorry for all we have done to displease you.  Forgive our sins, and help us to live in your light and walk in your ways, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Amen.
–Henry van Dyke, in Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1906.

——————————-

I confess, O Righteous God, that I have sinned against Thee in thought, word, and deed.  I have not loved Thee above all else nor my neighbor as myself.  Through my sins I am guilty of more than I understand and contribute to the world’s negligence of Thee.  I beseech Thee, help me to cease my sins. Forgive me, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
–From a Swedish Lutheran Church liturgy

——————————–

O Almighty God, grant that we may ever be found watching and ready for the coming of Thy Son.  Save us from undue love of the world, that we may wait with patient hope for the day of the Lord, and so abide in him, that when he shall appear we may not be ashamed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Methodist hymnal

——————————-

Lord God, I give you thanks that you have not left me to my sins, but have bruised me with bitter blows, inflicting sorrows, sending distress without and within.  You know all things without exception, and nothing in man’s conscience is hidden from you.  You know what will promote my progress, and how much tribulation will serve to scour off the rust of my sins.  Deal with me according to your good pleasure; I am in your hands.  I commit myself to you to be corrected, for it is better to be punished here than hereafter.  There is no one to console me except you, my Lord God, the heavenly physician of souls, who wounds and heals, who cast down and raises up again.  Your discipline is upon me and shall instruct me.  Make of me a pious and humble follower, so that I may walk in your way.  Amen.  

–Thomas a Kempis  (1380-1471)

——————————-

Dig out of us, O Lord, the venomous roots of covetousness; or else so repress them with your grace, that we may be contented with your provision of necessaries, and not labor, as we do, with all toil, sleight, guile, wrong, and oppression, to pamper ourselves with vain superfluities.   Amen.

–Edmund Grindal (1519-1583), Bishop of London

——————————-

Dear God, give us peaceful hearts, and a right courage in our strife against the devil, so that we may not only endure and finally triumph, but also have peace in the midst of the struggle, praising you and giving you thanks without complaining against your divine will.  Let peace rule in our hearts, so that we may never, through impatience, undertake anything against you, our God, or against our fellowman.  Rather, may we remain both inwardly and outwardly quiet and peaceable toward you, our Lord, and toward all people, until the final and eternal peace shall come.  Amen.

–Martin Luther

——————————–

Lord, grant that while I live I may do what service I am able to do in this frail body.  May I never forget Thy great love for me, and always be ready to lie down in death and bequeath my soul unto Thee.  Let me ever look up to Thee, so that my dying will not seem so terrible; and thus I shall not be unwilling to come to you, even though by so rough a deliverer.  Amen.  

–Anne Bradstreet  (1612-1672), New England Puritan poet

——————————-

O Lord God of all eternity, you give us the gift of time.  Give us also the wisdom to redeem the time, lest our day of grace be lost; for our Lord Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

–Christina Rossetti  (1830-1894), English poet

——————————-

Lord Jesus, when our brief time on earth is ended, take us unto Thee, for we are Thine and Thou art ours, and we long to be with Thee.  Here on earth let our small service be a part of Thy great work in this world; and then, at the last, receive us into Thy Kingdom.  Amen.

–Philip Melancthon  (1497-1560), German reformer

——————————-

Have mercy on me, O Lord, as I muddle my way through this sad world, on my way to you and your perfect home.  I make myself miserable and my life difficult by my many sins.  We have so much trouble getting along, as we are always sinning and being sinned against.  Give me the grace to forgive others and I have been forgiven by you, and may they receive the grace to forgive me as they have been forgiven by you.  I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for the forgiveness of all our sins.  Amen.

–Source lost

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

Lamentations 3:40-42a  —  Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord.  Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and say, “We have sinned.”

Lamentations 3:55-57  —  I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.  You heard my plea… (and) you came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”

Psalm 103:1-4  —  Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.

1265) A Few Good Quotes

Image result for words of wisdom images

—————————————————————————–

ON GETTING WHAT WE DESERVE:

“A lot of people who complain that they aren’t getting what they deserve don’t know how lucky they are.”  (Mad magazine, Issue #275)

 In the 1992 movie Unforgiven a young gunslinger is having second thoughts about a man he just shot and killed, and he asks an old gunslinger (Clint Eastwood) if the guy really had it coming.  Clint Eastwood, having many second thoughts about much of his past life, replied, “Son, we all got it coming.”

All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.  –Romans 3:23

What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?  Those things result in death!…  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  –Romans 6:21… 23

————————–

Why should men love the Church?  Why should they love her laws?  She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would want to forget.  She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.  She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.

–T. S. Eliot

————————–

      “Joy died at 10 o’clock last night… I was alone with her at the moment but she was not conscious…  I can’t understand my loss yet and hardly (except for brief but terrible moments) feel more than a kind of bewilderment, almost a psychological paralysis. A bit like the first moments after being hit by a shell (Lewis was severely wounded after being hit by a shell in WWI)…  I’d like to meet. Perhaps some day when you are in town I could take you to lunch.  For I am—oh God that I were not—very free now. One doesn’t realize in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must he tied.”

–From a letter by C. S. Lewis to his friend Peter Bide after the death of his wife in 1960

—————————–

ON LIVING IN 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.

 —C S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory

—————————–

“Christians get very angry toward other Christians who sin differently than they do.”

–Philip Yancey

—————————–

In a French cemetery there are the following concise inscriptions on one tombstone.  The epitaph is for a husband and wife:

I am anxiously expecting you.   –A.D. 1827

Here I am!   –A.D.  1867

—————————–

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more.  He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.  We must feel what it is to face death, to most appreciate the enjoyments of life.  Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart; and never forget, that until the day God reveals the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, Wait and Hope.”

~ Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Lamentations 3:25-26  —  The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.  It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

—————————–

Within my earthly temple there’s a crowd.
There’s one of us that’s humble; one that’s proud.
There’s one that’s broken-hearted for his sins,
And one who, unrepentant, sits and grins.
There’s one who loves his neighbor as himself,
And one who cares for naught but fame and self.
From much corroding care would I be free
If once I could determine which is Me.

–Edwin S. Martin, “Mixed”

——————————

THREE QUOTES ON TELLING THE TRUTH:

Who lies for you will lie against you.
~Bosnian Proverb

No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.
~Abraham Lincoln

Make yourself an honest man, and then you may be sure there is one less rascal in the world.
~Thomas Carlyle

——————————

     A woman entered the police station in tears.  “You must find my husband,” she cried.  “He has disappeared and I cannot live without him.”

     “Please lady, “the officer said, “You must calm down so we can ask you some questions.  How long has your husband been missing?”

     “I have not seen him since a week ago yesterday,” she said.

     “What?” said the officer, “He has been missing for over a week?  Why did you wait until today to let us know?”

     “Well,” the lady replied indignantly, “Today he gets his paycheck!”

     Sometimes we may be like that in our relationship with God.  We seek the Lord only when we need His help; not because we love Him, and not out of a sense of gratitude for all God has done for us.  Yet, we get very irritated when we are treated like that by people who are indebted to us far less than we are indebted to God.

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

Hebrews 2:1  —  We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  

Psalm 14:2-3  —  The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.   All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

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

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

For food in a world where many walk in hunger;

For faith in a world where many walk in fear;

For friends in a world where many walk alone;

We give you thanks, O Lord.  Amen.

1264) “Where Could I Go But to the Lord?”

 coats

   James B. Coats (1901-1961) spent most of his life teaching music in public schools in Mississippi.  For over thirty years he was a deacon in the Baptist church, and later answered a call to the ministry.  He also wrote several Gospel songs including “A Wonderful Place”, “My Soul Shall Live On”, “I’m Winging My Way Back Home”, and “Tomorrow May Mean Goodbye.”  In 1992 J. B. Coats was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

     In 1940 Coats wrote what was to become his most enduring song, “Where Could I Go But to the Lord.”  The inspiration for the song came some years earlier when Mr. Coats was at the bedside of one of his dying neighbors, an African-American gentleman named Joe Keyes.  Mr. Coats asked Mr. Keyes if he knew where he would spend eternity when he died.  Mr. Keyes simply replied, “Where could I go but to the Lord?”  Some years later Coats included these words in this gospel song.  It has been recorded by Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris, Bill and Gloria Gaither, and many others (see below).

     The hymn asks a simple, yet profound, question:  Where could I go but to the Lord?  This is an acknowledgement that there is no one that can save us but God.  Sometimes we lean on doctors, family, friends, the Church, or our finances to get us through; and all of those things can be tools God uses to help us through difficult times.  But our only ultimate hope is in Jesus.  When we “face the chilling hand of death,” where can we go “but to the Lord”?  (based on a blog by Enid and Austin Bhebe, August 16, 2013 at:  www.austinbhebe.wordpress.com)

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

John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

Acts 4:12  —  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

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

“In the midst of life we are in death, of whom may we seek comfort but of Thee, O Lord.”

–From the burial service in the Book of Common Prayer, 1662.

————————

WHERE COULD I GO BUT TO THE LORD?  by J. B. Coats

Living below in this old sinful word,
Hardly a comfort can afford;
Striving alone to face temptations sore,
Where could I go but to the Lord?

Chorus
Where could I go, O where could I go,
Seeking a refuge for my soul?
Needing a friend to save me in the end,
Where could I go but to the Lord?

Neighbors are kind, I love them eve’ry one,
We get along in sweet accord;
But when my soul needs manna from above,
Where could I go but to the Lord?  Chorus

Life here is grand with friends I love so dear;
Comfort I get from God’s own word;
Yet when I face the chilling hand of death,
Where could I go but to the Lord?  Chorus

——————————————————–

For two popular recordings of “Where Could I Go?” go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPexD4ilCUA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w3BOJ5V3nE

1263) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb5)

Image result for sunrise images

From 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).

———————–

MORNING PRAYER  (ninth day)

Here am I, O God, of little power and frail flesh, yet lifting up heart and voice to Thee before whom all created things are as dust and a vapor.  Thou art hidden behind the curtain of what we can see, incomprehensible in Thy greatness, mysterious in Thine almighty power; yet here I speak with Thee, personally and confidently as child to parent, as friend to friend.  If I could not thus speak to Thee, then I would indeed be without hope in this world.  For it is little that I have power to do or to determine.  Not of my own will am I here, not of my own will shall I soon pass away.  Of all that shall come to me this day, very little will be such as I have chosen for myself.  It is Thou, O hidden One, who dost appoint my lot and determine the bounds of my habitation.  It is Thou who hast put power in my hand to do one work and have withheld the skill to do another.  It is Thou who keeps in Thy grasp the threads of this day’s life and who alone knows what lies before me to do or to suffer.  But because Thou art my Father, I am not afraid.  Because it is Thine own Spirit that stirs within my spirit’s inmost room, I know that all is well.  What I desire for myself I cannot attain, but what Thou desires in me Thou can attain for me.  I fail to do the good that I want to do, but the good that Thou wills in me, that Thou can give me power to do.

Dear Father, take this day’s life into Thine own keeping.  Control all my thoughts and feelings.  Direct all my energies.  Instruct my mind.  Sustain my will.  Take my hands and make them skillful to serve Thee.  Take my feet and make them swift to do Thy bidding.  Take my eyes and keep them fixed upon Thee.  Take my mouth and make it eloquent in testimony to Thy love.  Make this day a day of obedience, a day of spiritual joy and peace.  Make this day’s work a little part of the work of the Kingdom of my Lord Christ, in whose name these my prayers are said.  Amen.

————————–

EVENING PRAYER  (eighth day)

     O God, the Father of all people, I bring before Thee the burden of the world’s life.  I join myself to the great scattered company of those who, in every corner of every land, are now crying out to Thee in their need.  Hear us, O God, and look in pity upon our many needs, since Thou alone art able to satisfy all our desires.  Especially do I commend to Thy holy keeping:

All who tonight are far from home and friends;

All who tonight must lie down hungry or cold;

All who suffer pain;

All who are kept awake by anxiety or suspense;

All who are facing danger;

All who must toil or keep watch while others sleep.

Give to them all, I pray, such a sense of Thy presence with them as may turn their loneliness into comfort and their trouble into peace.

O most loving God, who in the Person of Thy Son Jesus Christ manifested Thy love to us by relieving all manner of suffering and healing all manner of disease, grant Thy blessing, I pray, to all who in any corner of the world are serving in Christ’s name:

All ministers of the gospel of Christ;

All who bring food to the hungry and provide shelter for the homeless;

All missionary workers abroad;

All doctors and nurses who faithfully tend the sick.  

Accomplish though them Thy great purpose of goodwill to men, and grant them in their own hearts the joy of Christ’s most real presence.
And to me also, as I lie down, grant the joy of a life surrendered to Christ’s service and the peace of sin forgiven through the power of His Cross.  Amen.

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

Philippians 2:12-13  —  Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Romans 7:15, 19, 24-5  —  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do…  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I Timothy 2:1-5  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people; for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

————————

Image result for images night time

1262) The ‘Good Enough’ Marriage

Image result for american gothic images

American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930

———————————

By Mark Regnerus in the December 4, 2014 issue of First Things.  Regnerus is associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

     I have a good marriage.  Is it a great marriage?  I don’t know.  Do we squabble?  Plenty.  Do either of us feel shortchanged?  With regularity.  Might we be happier had we married other people twenty-one years ago?  It’s certainly possible.  Should I reconsider my marriage?  Heavens no.

     Amid well-intentioned efforts to reinforce or rebuild a disappearing marriage culture, there remains a persistent hazard— that in belaboring the ‘beauty of marriage’, many people in challenging unions will feel more discouraged, not less.  Their marriages haven’t felt wonderful for a very long time.  Or the dismal follows the wonderful in a predictably cyclical fashion.  Or misunderstanding seems chronic.  Bedrooms become battlegrounds.  It’s not how marriage was intended to be, but it is how many turn and how some remain.

     A measure of relational trial is, of course, endemic to the human condition.  “Interaction breeds conflict” is as close as sociologists can come to identifying a ‘Law of the Social Universe.’  And yet conflict can be productively harnessed.  Marital difficulty and challenge can, as the recent Humanum film series illustrates, reveal a “hidden sweetness” (see link below)…

     I have documented the long-term benefits of having grown up with a married mother and father who have hung in there, in comparison to every other combination.  (Even the death of a parent proved far less consequential than a divorce.)  And I didn’t evaluate marital happiness in my surveys and analyses, only marital status.  Some stable households were no doubt more blissful than others.  But an unsightly building can still provide shelter.

     A friend of mine recently left his wife after nearly thirty years of marriage, reinforcing the dismal data on “gray divorce.”  While I don’t know the particulars, and his exit seems to have no obvious logic, I know theirs was neither a simple nor an easy marriage, and that both spouses had high expectations for it.  One observer lamented this human habit, which extends well beyond marital hopes to simpler ones about work, health, material goods, vacations, even tonight’s dinner:

That happens with so many things in life.  We inject them with poetry in our imaginations, we idealize them, and come to believe they are the epitome of happiness and beauty.  But then when we have them in front of us, and see them just as they are, our hearts sink to our boots.

     I and a few other friends of his got together in an effort to ask him to reconsider his departure.  One of us wondered aloud, “Wouldn’t it be better to limp to the finish line, with the help of others, than quit the race?”  After all, if marriage is a marathon, our friend was probably nearing the twenty-mile mark.  The rest of us concurred, but to no avail.

     My late colleague Norval Glenn discovered that even so-called “good” divorces are consequential.  Amicable divorces, he noted, foster disorientation in children, who feel at a loss to explain what they’ve witnessed, much less improve upon it themselves someday.  Such divorces, he concluded, are worse than maintaining a mediocre marriage.

     I maintain that my friend was wrong about his decision to exit his “good enough” marriage.  Perhaps new information would change my mind, but it’s unlikely.  There are precious few scenarios in which his children would be better off for his having left.  Perhaps my confidence seems the height of arrogance.  All I know is that his wife would like him to come home.

     What should we do?  A trio of simple commitments is a good start.

     First, be wary of taking sides.  Remember that when we offer comfort by belittling someone else’s spouse, we do damage to their marriage— an entity that we did not create, and one that exists independently of each.  The temptation to do this is very strong (and often fed by one of the spouses).  I myself am guilty.  To be sure, some marriages must end— but not so many as we’ve witnessed.

     Second, be gentle.  We harm our brothers and sisters not when we display affection, respect, and sacrifice for our own spouses— they need to see that.  We do harm when we fail to esteem others’ unions, fragile though they may be.  Praise those aspects of others’ marriages that merit it.  A bruised reed we ought not break.

     Third, be observant and courageous.  If in fact many mediocre marriages don’t deserve the death penalty, then you must speak up.  Twenty percent of married Americans report having thought about leaving their spouse in the past year.  Undisciplined children seldom turn out well; so too the marriages in our social orbits.  It is a vigil of love that we must keep.

———————

See HUMANUM FILM SERIES (part 4); “A Hidden Sweetness:  The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship” (12 minutes):

http://www.loveandfidelity.org/resources/a-hidden-sweetness-the-power-of-marriage-amid-hardship-part-4-of-6-of-the-humanum-series/

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

Isaiah 42:3-4a  —  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged.

Mark 10:6-9  —  (Jesus said), “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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

Temple Gairdner (1873-1928), before his marriage:

O Lord, Jesus Christ:  that I may come near to her, draw me nearer to Thee than to her; that I may know her, make me to know Thee more than her; that I may love her with the perfect love, cause me to love Thee more than her.  Be Thou between us, O Lord, every moment, so that nothing else may be between me and her.  Amen.

1261) Nothing Left?

From The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale, 1952,  p. 20-22 (ed.):

     A man 52 years of age consulted me.  He was in great despondency.  He said he was all through.  He informed me that everything he had built up over his lifetime had been swept away.

     “Everything?” I asked.

     “Everything,” he repeated.  “I am through.  I have nothing left at all.  Everything is gone, and I am too old to start all over again.  There is no hope.”

     I said, “Suppose we take a piece of paper and write down what you have left.”

     “There’s no use,” he sighed.  “I told you I haven’t a single thing left.”

     I said, “Let’s see anyway.”  Then I asked, “Is your wife still with you?”

     “Why, yes, of course,” he said, “and she is wonderful.  We have been married for 30 years.  She would never leave me no matter how bad things are.”

     “All right, let us put that down– your wife is still with you and she will never leave you no matter what happens.  Now, do you have any children?”

     “Yes,” he replied, “I have three and they are certainly wonderful.  I have been touched by the way they have come to me and said, ‘Dad, we love you, and we’ll stand by you.’”

     “Well, then,” I said, “that is number two– three children who love you and who will stand by you.  Got any friends?”

      “Yes,” he said, “I have some really fine friends.  I must admit they have been pretty decent.  They have come around and said they would like to help me, but what can they do?”

     “That is number three– you have some friends who would like to help you and who hold you in esteem.  How about your integrity?”

     “My integrity is all right,” he replied, “I have always tried to do the right thing and my conscience is clear.”

     “All right,” I said, “there’s number four– integrity.  How about your health?”

     “My health is all right,” he said, “I have had very few sick days and I guess I am in pretty good shape physically.”

     “So let’s put that down as number five– good physical health.  How about the United States?  Do you think this is still the land of opportunity?”

     “Yes,” he said, “”It is the only country in the world I would want to live.”

     “That is number six– you live in the United States, land of opportunity, and you are glad to be here.”  Then I asked, “How about your religious faith?  Do you believe in God and that God will help you?”

     “Yes,” he said.  “I do not think I could have gotten through this at all if I hadn’t had some help from God.”

     “Now,” I said, “let’s list the assets we have figured out:  1.  A wonderful wife, married for thirty years;  2.  Three devoted children who will stand by you;  3.  Friends who will help you and hold you in esteem;  4.  Integrity; nothing to be ashamed of;  5.  Good physical health;  6.  Live in the U. S., the greatest country in the world;  7.  Have religious faith.”  I pushed the list across the table to him.  “Take a look at that.  I guess you have quite a lot of total assets.  I thought you told me everything had been swept away.”

     He grinned ashamedly.  “I guess I didn’t think of those thing.  Perhaps my life isn’t so bad at that,” he said pensively.

————————————

     In his book The Lord God Made Them All English country veterinarian James Herriot tells of being called out on a particular Sunday night to a couple’s home some ten miles away to look at their dog.  When he got there, the wife of the family invited him into a shabbily furnished room, one end of which was partly curtained off.  She drew back the curtain and introduced her husband whose name was Ron.  Ron was in bed, a skeleton of a man with hollowed out eyes set in a yellow looking face.

     “That’s the patient” she said, pointing to a dachshund sitting by the bed, “He’s gone funny on his legs; he can’t walk.”

     The vet was struggling all this time with irritation for being called out on a Sunday for a case which could easily have waited a couple of days.  Then Ron said in a husky voice, “I was a miner.  Roof fell in on me.  I got a broken back.  Doctor says I’ll never walk again.”  After a pause he continued, “But I count my blessings.  I suffer very little and I’ve got the best wife in the world.”

     The vet couldn’t help wondering what those blessings were– the wife, obviously, the dog who provided companionship when his wife was out, and the marvelous view across the Yorkshire Dales where he used to tramp for miles.  That was all, but that was enough.  

     By then the irritation had seeped away.  Driving the ten miles home across the Dales, Herriot felt very humble.

————————————

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has many; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

–Charles Dickens

————————————

(After Stephen commented on how Levin always seemed to be so happy):  Levin replied, “Perhaps that is because I rejoice in what I have and do not bother about what I don’t have.”    –Leo Tolstoy in Anna Karenina

—————————————

     I once asked Eddie Rickenbacker what was the biggest lesson he had learned from drifting about with his companions in life rafts for 21 days, hopelessly lost in the Pacific (after his plane was shot down in WW II).  He said, “The biggest lesson I learned from that experience was that if you have all the fresh water you want to drink and all the food you want to eat, you ought never to complain about anything.”  

–Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

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

Psalm 103:1-2  —  Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

James 1:16-17a  —  My dear brothers and sisters, don’t let anyone fool you– every good and perfect gift is from God.

Psalm 136:1  —   O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

–Johnson Oatman, Jr.  (1856-1922)

Image result for don't think of the things you didn't get after praying images

1260) Overcome Evil With Good (part three of three)

Image result for images of sad old russian man

GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS(1872)  (part three)

 By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)  (1907 Maude translation)

——————————

     (…continued)  One night as he was walking about the prison,  Aksyónof noticed some earth that came rolling out from under one of the shelves on which the prisoners slept.  He stopped to see what it was.  Suddenly Makar Semyónitch crept out from under the shelf, and looked up at Aksyónof with frightened face.  Aksyónof tried to pass without looking at him, but Makár seized his hand and told him that he had dug a hole under the wall, getting rid of the earth by putting it into his high-boots, and emptying it out every day on the road when the prisoners were driven to their work.

     “Just you keep quiet, old man, and you shall get out too,” Makar said.  “If you blab they’ll flog the life out of me, but I will kill you first.”

     Aksyónof trembled with anger as he looked at his enemy.  He drew his hand away, saying, “I have no wish to escape, and you have no need to kill me.  You killed me long ago.  As to telling of you– I may do so or not, as God shall direct.”

     The next day, when the convicts were led out to work, the convoy soldiers noticed that one or other of the prisoners emptied some earth out of his boots.  The prison was searched, and the tunnel found.  The Governor came and questioned all the prisoners to find out who had dug the hole.  They all denied any knowledge of it.  Those who knew, would not betray Makar, knowing he would be flogged almost to death.  At last the Governor turned to Aksyónof, whom he knew to be a just man, and said, “You are a truthful old man; tell me, before God, who dug the hole?”

     Makár stood as if he were quite unconcerned, looking at the Governor and not so much as glancing at Aksyónof.  Aksyónof’s lips and hands trembled, and for a long time he could not utter a word.  He thought, “Why should I protect him who ruined my life?  Let him pay for what I have suffered.  But if I tell, they will probably flog the life out of him and maybe I suspect him wrongly.  And, after all, what good would it be to me?”

     “Well, old man,” repeated the Governor, “tell us the truth: who has been digging under the wall?”

     Aksyónof finally said “I cannot say, your honor.  It is not God’s will that I should tell!  Do what you like with me; I am in your hands.”

     However much the Governor tried, Aksyónof would say no more, and so the matter had to be left.

     That night, when Aksyónof was lying on his bed and just beginning to doze, some one came quietly and sat down on his bed.  He peered through the darkness and recognized Makar.

     “What more do you want of me?” asked Aksyónof.  “Why have you come here?”

     Makar was silent.  So Aksyónof sat up and said, “What do you want?  Go away, or I will call the guard!”

     Makar bent close over Aksyónof, and whispered, “Iván Dmítritch Aksyónof, forgive me!”

     “What for?” asked Aksyónof.

     “It was I who killed the merchant and hid the knife among your things.  I meant to kill you too, but I heard a noise outside; so I hid the knife in your bag and escaped out of the window.”

     Aksyónof was silent, and did not know what to say.  Makár Semyónitch slid off the bed-shelf and knelt upon the ground.  “Aksyónof,” said he, “forgive me!  For the love of God, forgive me!  I will confess that it was I who killed the merchant, and you will be released and can go to your home.”

     “It is easy for you to talk,” said Aksyónof, “but I have suffered for you these twenty-six years.  Where could I go to now?  My wife is dead, and my children have forgotten me.  I have nowhere to go.”

     Makar did not rise, but beat his head on the floor.  “Forgive me!” he cried.  “When they flogged me with the whip it was not so hard to bear as it is to see you now.  Yet you had pity on me, and did not tell.  For Christ’s sake forgive me, wretch that I am!”  And he began to sob.

     When Aksyónof heard him sobbing he, too, began to weep.

     “God will forgive you!” said he.  “Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you.”  And at these words his heart grew light, and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.

     In spite of what Aksyónof had said, Makar Semyónitch confessed his guilt.  But when the order for his release came, Aksyónof was already dead.

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

Romans 12:17-21  —  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Revelation 2:9-10  —  (Jesus said), “I know your afflictions and your poverty— yet you are rich!…  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution…  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

Hebrews 6:9b-11  —  We are convinced of better things in your case— things that have to do with salvation.  God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.

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.

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

Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

–Jesus, Luke 23:34a

1259) Overcome Evil With Good (part two of three)

Image result for siberian prisons 19th century images

GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS(1872)  (part two)

 By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)  (1907 Maude translation)

————————

      (…continued)  For 26 years Aksyónof lived as a convict in Siberia.  His hair turned white as snow and his beard grew long, thin, and grey.  All his mirth went; he stooped; he walked slowly, spoke little, and never laughed, but he often prayed.

     In prison Aksyónof learnt to make boots, and earned a little money, with which he bought The Lives of the Saints.  He read this book when there was light enough in the prison; and on Sundays in the prison-church he read the lessons and sang in the choir; for his voice was still good.

     The prison authorities liked Aksyónof for his meekness, and his fellow-prisoners respected him.  They called him ‘Grandfather,’ and ‘The Saint.’  When they wanted to petition the prison authorities about anything, they always made Aksyónof their spokesman, and when there were quarrels among the prisoners they came to him to put things right, and to judge the matter.

     No news reached Aksyónof from his home, and he did not even know if his wife and children were still alive.

     One day a fresh gang of convicts came to the prison.  In the evening the old prisoners gathered round the new ones and asked them what towns or villages they came from, and what they were sentenced for.  Among the rest Aksyónof sat down near the new-comers, and listened with downcast air to what was said.

     One of the new convicts, a tall, strong man of sixty, with a closely-cropped gray beard, was telling the others what he had been arrested for.   “Well, friends,” he said, “I only took a horse that was tied to a sled, and I was arrested and accused of stealing.  I said I had only taken it to get home quicker, and had then let it go; besides, the driver was a personal friend of mine.  So I said, ‘It’s all right.’  But they said, ‘No, you stole it.’  But once I really did do something wrong, and by rights I ought to have come here long ago.  But that time I was not found out.  Now I have been sent here for nothing at all.”

     “Where are you from?” asked some one.

     “From Vladímir,” he said.  “My family are of that town.  My name is Makar, and they also call me Semyónitch.’

     Aksyónof raised his head and said:  ‘Tell me, Makar, do you know anything of the Aksyónof family?  They were merchants in Vladímir.  Are they still alive?”

     “Know them?  Of course I do,” Makar said.  “The Aksyónofs are rich, though their father is in Siberia– a sinner like ourselves, it seems.  As for you, Gran’dad, how did you come here?”

     Aksyónof did not like to speak of his misfortune.  He only sighed, and said, “For my sins I have been in prison these twenty-six years.”

     “What sins?” asked Makar Semyónitch.

     But Aksyónof only said, “Well, well; I must have deserved it!”  He would have said no more, but his companions told the new-comer how Aksyónof came to be in Siberia; how someone had killed a merchant and had put a knife among Aksyónof’s things, and Aksyónof had been unjustly condemned.

     When Makar heard this, he looked at Aksyónof, slapped his own knee, and exclaimed, “Well, this is wonderful!  Really wonderful!  But how old you’ve grown, Gran’dad!’

     The others asked him why he was so surprised, and where he had seen Aksyónof before; but Makar Semyónitch did not reply.  He only said: “It’s wonderful that we should meet here, lads!”

     These words made Aksyónof wonder whether this man knew who had killed the merchant, so he said, “Perhaps, Makar, you have heard of that affair, or maybe you’ve seen me before?”

     “How could I help hearing?  The world’s full of rumors.  But it’s long ago, and I’ve forgotten what I heard.”

     “Perhaps you heard who killed the merchant?” asked Aksyónof.

     Makar laughed and replied, “It must have been him in whose bag the knife was found.  And if some one else hid the knife there, well, as the old saying goes, ‘He’s not a thief till he’s caught.’  How could any one put a knife into your bag while it was under your head?  It would surely have woke you up?”

     When Aksyónof heard these words, he felt sure this was the man who had killed the merchant.  He rose and went away.  All that night Aksyónof lay awake.

     He felt terribly unhappy, and all sorts of images rose in his mind.  There was the image of his wife as she was when he parted from her to go to the fair.  He saw her as if she were present.  Her face and her eyes rose before him, and he heard her speak and laugh.  Then he saw his children, quite little, as they were at that time; one with a little cloak on, another at his mother’s breast.  And then he remembered himself as he used to be– young and merry.  He remembered how he sat playing the guitar in the porch of the inn where he was arrested, and how free from care he had been.  He saw, in his mind, the place where he was flogged, the executioner, and the people standing around; the chains, the convicts, all the twenty-six years of his prison life, and his premature old age.  The thought of it all made him so wretched that he was ready to kill himself.

     “And it’s all that villain’s doing!” thought Aksyónof.  And his anger was so great against Makar Semyónitch that he longed for vengeance, even if he himself should perish for it.  He kept repeating prayers all night, but could get no peace.  During the day he did not go near Makar, nor even look at him.

     A fortnight passed in this way.  Aksyónof could not sleep at nights, and was so miserable that he did not know what to do.  (continued…)

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

Proverbs 20:22  —  Do not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!”  Wait for the Lord, and he will avenge you.

Isaiah 30:18  —  The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for him!

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

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

–Jesus, Luke 11:4a