1258) Overcome Evil With Good (part one of three)

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

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

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     In the town of Vladímir lived a young merchant named Iván Dmítritch Aksyónof.  He had two shops and a house of his own.  Aksyónof was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing.  When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much.  But after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then.

     One summer Aksyónof was going to the Nízhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family his wife said to him, “Iván, do not start to-day.  I have had a bad dream about you.”

     Aksyónof laughed, and said, “You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on the spree.”

     His wife replied:  “I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream.  I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite gray.”

     Aksyónof laughed.  “That’s a lucky sign,” said he.  “I will sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair.”  So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.

     When he had traveled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up at the same inn for the night.  They had some tea together, and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.

     It was not Aksyónof’s habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses.  Then he paid his bill and continued his journey.

     When he had gone about 25 miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed.  Aksyónof rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch and got out his guitar and began to play.

     Suddenly a carriage drove up with tinkling bells, and an official stepped out, followed by two soldiers.  He came to Aksyónof and began to question him, asking him who he was and whence he came.  Aksyónof answered him fully, and said, “Won’t you have some tea with me?”  But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him, “Where did you spend last night?  Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant?  Did you see the other merchant this morning?  Why did you leave the inn before dawn?”

     Aksyónof wondered why he was asked all these questions, but he described all that had happened, and then added, “Why do you cross-question me as if I were a thief or a robber?  I am traveling on business of my own, and there is no need to question me.”

     Then the official, calling the soldiers, said, “I am the police-officer of this district, and I question you because the merchant with whom you spent last night has been found with his throat cut.  We must search your things.”

     They entered the house.  The soldiers and the police-officer unstrapped Aksyónof’s luggage and searched it.  Suddenly the officer drew a knife out of a bag, crying, “Whose knife is this?”

     Aksyónof looked, and seeing a blood-stained knife taken from his bag, he was frightened.

     “How is it there is blood on this knife?” asked the police-officer.

      Aksyónof tried to answer, but could hardly utter a word, and only stammered:  “I… I don’t know… it’s not mine.”

       Then the police-officer said, “This morning the merchant was found in bed with his throat cut.  You are the only person who could have done it.  The house was locked from inside, and no one else was there.  Here is this bloodstained knife in your bag, and your face and manner betray you!”

      Aksyónof swore he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant after they had had tea together; that he had no money except eight thousand roubles of his own, and that the knife was not his.  But his voice was broken, his face pale, and he trembled with fear as though he were guilty.

       The police-officer ordered the soldiers to bind Aksyónof and to put him in the cart.  As they tied his feet together and flung him into the cart, Aksyónof crossed himself and wept.  His money and goods were taken from him, and he was sent to the nearest town and imprisoned there.  Enquiries as to his character were made in Vladímir.  The merchants and other inhabitants of that town said that in former days he used to drink and waste his time, but that he was a good man.  Then the trial was held.  He was charged with murdering a merchant from Ryazán, and robbing him of twenty thousand roubles.

     His wife was in despair, and did not know what to believe.  Her children were all quite small; one was a baby at her breast.  Taking them all with her, she went to the town where her husband was in jail.  At first she was not allowed to see him; but, after much begging, she obtained permission from the officials, and was taken to him.  When she saw her husband in prison-dress and in chains, shut up with thieves and criminals, she fell down, and did not come to her senses for a long time.  Then she drew her children to her, and sat down near him.  She told him of things at home, and asked about what had happened to him.  He told her all, and she asked, “What can we do now?”

     “We must petition the Tsar not to let an innocent man perish,” he said.

     His wife told him that she had sent a petition to the Tsar, but that it had not been accepted.  Aksyónof did not reply, but only looked downcast.

     Then his wife said, “It was not for nothing I dreamt your hair had turned grey.  Do you remember?  You should not have started that day.”  And passing her fingers through his hair, she said, “My dearest, tell your wife the truth; was it not you who did it?”

     “So you, too, suspect me!” said Aksyónof, and hiding his face in his hands, he began to weep.  Then a soldier came to say that the wife and children must go away; and Aksyónof said good-bye to his family for the last time.

     When they were gone, Aksyónof recalled what had been said, and when he remembered that his wife also had suspected him, he said to himself, “It seems that only God can know the truth, it is to Him alone we must appeal, and from Him alone expect mercy.”  And Aksyónof wrote no more petitions; gave up all hope, and only prayed to God.

     Aksyónof was condemned to be flogged and sent to the mines.  So he was flogged with a heavy whip, and when his wounds were healed, he was driven to Siberia with other convicts.  (continued…)

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Micah 7:7-8  —  But as for me, I watch in hope for the LordI wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.  Do not gloat over me, my enemy!  Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.

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 PSALM 38:15:

Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God.

1257) A Grandfather’s Love

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Mr. and Mrs. D. L. Moody and grandchildren

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From The One Year Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 2003, pages 670-1.

     Dwight Lyman Moody, (1837-1899), was the greatest evangelist of his day.  He preached to more people than any of his contemporaries, and was the catalyst of great revivals, not only in the United States and Canada, but also in England, Scotland, and Ireland.

     Yet what meant more to Moody than even his evangelistic ministry was his family.  He had three children, Emma, Will, and Paul Dwight.  The arrival of his grandchildren brought Moody special joy.   The first two, Will’s daughter, Irene, and Emma’s daughter, Emma, were born in 1895 (above photo).  Moody loved them dearly.

     The arrival of his namesake, Dwight Lyman Moody, in November, 1897, added to his delight.  But no one could foresee that his beloved grandchildren would soon precipitate his final crisis.

     On November 30, 1898, while in Colorado, Moody received a telegram that stunned him.  Little one-year-old Dwight, his pride and joy, had died.  Heavy with grief, Moody wrote to the sorrowing parents:

I know Dwight is having a good time, and we should rejoice with him.  What would the heavenly mansions be without children?  He was the last to come into our circle, and he is the first to go up there.  So safe, so free from all the sorrow we are passing through!  I thank God for such a life.  It was nearly all smiles and sunshine, and what a glorified body he will have, and with what joy he will await your coming!  God does not give us such strong love for each other for a few days or years, but it is going to last forever, and you will have the dear little man with you for ages and ages, and love will keep increasing…

I cannot think of him as belonging to earth.  The more I think of him, the more I think he was only sent to draw us all closer to each other and up to the world of light and joy.  I could not wish him back, if he could have all earth could give him…  Dear, dear little fellow!…  I have no doubt that when he saw the Savior he smiled as he did when he saw you.  The word that keeps coming to my mind is this:  “It is well with the child.”  Thank God, Dwight is safe at home, and we will, all of us, see him soon.

Your loving father,

D. L. Moody

     The following March little Irene fell ill with tuberculosis, and by August she was wasting away.  Moody brought Will, his wife, May, and little Irene into his home to offer any help he could, but nothing could be done to save her.  To their great sorrow, Irene died just eight months after her baby brother.

     At the funeral Moody unexpectedly rose and spoke of Elijah “waiting in the Valley of Jordan so many years ago, for the chariot of God to take him home.  Again the chariot of God came down to the Connecticut Valley yesterday morning about half-past six and took our little Irene home.”

     Grief weighed heavily on this grandfather’s heart, and just four months later D. L Moody himself was the one who was dying.  He revived momentarily and said, “What does this all mean?  I must have had a trance.  I went to the gate of heaven.  Why, it was so wonderful, and I saw the children!”

     His son, Will, asked, “Oh, Father, did you see them?”

     Moody answered, “Yes, I saw Irene and Dwight.”  Moments later he was with them.

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Deuteronomy 5:29  —  Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever.

II Kings 4:26b  —  “Is it well with the child?”  And she answered, “It is well.”

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Let not your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God, believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you…  I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.  You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you.  Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die.  So death is only an horizon and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.  Open our eyes to see more clearly.  Draw us closer to you that we may know that we are nearer to our loved ones who are with you.  You have told us that you are preparing a place for us.  Prepare us also for that happy place, that where you are we may also be always, O dear Lord of life and death.  Amen.

–William Penn  (1644-1718)

1256) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb4)

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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  (Thirty-first Day)

O Lord my King!  Reverently would I greet Thee at the beginning of another day!  All praise and love and loyalty be unto Thee, O Lord, most high.

Forbid, O Lord God, that my thoughts today should be wholly occupied with this world’s passing show.  Thou hast given me the power to lift my mind to the contemplation of things unseen and eternal, so forbid that I should remain content with the things of sense and time.  Grant, rather, that each day may do something to strengthen my hold upon the unseen world, to increase my sense of its reality, and to attach my heart to its holy and eternal interests.  Then, as the end of my earthly life draws ever nearer, I may not grow to be a part of these fleeting earthly surroundings, but may rather yearn more and more for the life of the world to come.

O Thou who sees and knows all things, give me grace to see and know Thee, that in knowing Thee I may know myself even as I am most perfectly known of Thee, and in seeing Thee may see myself as I verily am before Thee.  Give me today some clear vision of my life in time as it appears to Thine eternity.  Show me my own smallness and Thine infinite greatness.  Show me my own sin and Thy perfect righteousness.  Show me my own lovelessness and Thine exceeding love.  Yet in Thy mercy show me also how, small as I am, I can take refuge in Thy greatness; how, sinful as I am, I may lean upon Thy righteousness; and how, loveless as I am, I may hide myself in Thy forgiving love.  Cause my thoughts to dwell much today on the life and death of Jesus Christ my Lord, so that I may see all things in the light of the redemption which Thou hast granted to me in His name.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Thirty-first Day)

O Thou who art the Lord of the night as of the day, in this hour of darkness I submit my will to Thine.

From the stirrings of self-will within my heart:

From cowardly avoidance of necessary duty:

From rebellious shrinking from necessary suffering:

From discontentment with my lot in life:

From jealousy of those whose lot is easier:

From thinking lightly of the one talent Thou hast given me, because Thou hast not given me five or ten:

From uncreaturely pride:

From undisciplined thought:

From unwillingness to learn and unreadiness to serve:

O God, set me free.

O God my Father, who art often closest to me when I am farthest from Thee, and who art near at hand even when I feel that Thou hast forsaken me, mercifully grant that the defeat of my self-will may be the triumph in me of Thine eternal purpose.

May I grow more sure of Thy reality and power:

May I attain a clearer mind as to the meaning of my life on earth:

May I strengthen my hold upon life eternal:

May I look more and more to things unseen:

May my desires grow less unruly and my imaginations more pure:

May my love for others grow deeper and more tender, and may I be more willing to take their burdens upon myself.

To thy care, O God, I commend my soul and the souls of all whom I love and who love me; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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I Chronicles 23:29-31  —  They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord.  They were to do the same in the evening.

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.

John 20:19-20  —  On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  After he said this, he showed them his hands and side.  The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

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1255) Jesus Visits a Muslim Persecutor

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From Jesus Freaks, pages 52-55, published by ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’, 1999.

   “When you catch the infidels, beat them!  Allah will be pleased,” Zahid encouraged them.  The crowd of young men, the youth group of his mosque, waved their sticks and iron bars and cheered in agreement.  Zahid’s arrogance and hatred swelled.  He felt he was doing well as a young Muslim leader.  His parents would be proud.  He had rallied a rather large group for this outing and they were nearly ready to go.  Within minutes they would be combing the streets of their village for Christians to ambush.

     Zahid had a proud heritage in Pakistan.  His father and older brother were both leaders in the local mosque.  As expected, Zahid had followed in their footsteps.  His hatred for Christians began to show itself as he rallied his followers against them.

     To Zahid, as to many Muslims, Christians are heretics and should be punished.  His government is becoming more influenced by Sharia law in some provinces.  Sharia law calls for the death of anyone found guilty of blasphemy against the prophet Mohammed or the Koran.  To these Muslims, rejecting Mohammed’s teachings by becoming a Christian is the highest form of blasphemy.

     When their fervor peaked, Zahid led his group into the streets.  It was not long before they found a group of young Christians to attack.  As the mob descended upon them, the young boys ran, one of them dropping his Bible.  One of Zahid’s group stopped, picked up the Bible, and opened it to rip out its pages.  Zahid had always told his followers to burn all the Bibles they collected, but this time Zahid felt strangely compelled to keep it and study it in order to expose its errors to the people of his mosque.  He quickly snatched the book from the man, encouraged him to chase the fleeing Christians, and tucked the Bible into his shirt for later.

     Zahid reported in his own words what became of keeping that Bible:

I was reading the Bible, looking for contradictions I could use against the Christian faith.  All of a sudden, a great light appeared in my room and I heard a voice call my name.  The light was so bright, it lit the entire room.  Then the voice asked, `Zahid, why do you persecute Me?’  I was scared.  I didn’t know what to do.  I thought I was dreaming.  I asked, `Who are you?’  I heard, `I am the way, the truth, and the life.’  For the next three nights the light and the voice returned.  Finally, on the fourth night, I knelt down and I accepted Jesus as my Savior.

     Zahid’s hatred was suddenly gone.  All he wanted to do was share Jesus with everyone he knew.  He went to his family members and those in the mosque and told them what had happened to him over the last four nights, but they didn’t believe him.  His family and friends turned against him.  They called the authorities to have him arrested so he would leave them alone about this Jesus.  According to Islamic teaching, Zahid was now considered an apostate, a traitor to Islam, a man who had turned from his faith and accepted stupid lies.  Thus, he was a criminal.

     Zahid was locked up in prison for two years.  The guards repeatedly beat and tortured him.  One time, they pulled out his fingernails in an attempt to break his faith.  Another time, they tied him to the ceiling fan by his hair and left him to hang there.  Zahid said:

 Although I suffered greatly at the hands of my Muslim captors, I held no bitterness towards them.  I knew that just a few years before, I had been one of them.  I too had hated Christians.  During my trial, I was found guilty of blasphemy.  According to the Sharia law, I was to be executed by hanging.  They tried to force me to recant my faith in Jesus.  They assured me that if I cooperated there would be no more beatings, no more humiliation.  I could go free.  But I could not deny Jesus.  Mohammed had never visited me; Jesus had.  I knew He was the truth.  I just prayed for the guards, hoping that they would also come to know Jesus.

     On the day Zahid was to be hanged, he was unafraid of death as they came to take him from his cell.  Even as they took him to his execution and placed the noose around his neck, Zahid preached about Jesus to his guards and execu­tioners.  He wanted his last breaths on earth to be used in telling his countrymen that Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life.”  Zahid stood ready to face his Savior.

     Suddenly, loud voices were heard in the outer room.  Guards hurried in to tell Zahid’s executioners that the court had unexpectedly issued an order to release Zahid, stating that there was not enough evidence to execute him.  To this day, no one knows why Zahid was suddenly allowed to go free.

     Zahid later changed his name to Lazarus, feeling that he too had been raised from death.  He traveled in the villages around his home testifying of his narrow escape from death.  Many of the Christians did not trust him at first.  But soon they saw his sincerity and received him into their family.  They now assist him as he travels from village to village preaching Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life.”

     “I live in a land ruled by the false teaching of Islam” Zahid said.  “My people are blinded, and I was chosen by God to be His voice.  I count all that I have suffered nothing compared to the endless joy of knowing Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life.”

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John 14:6a  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”

Acts 9:4-5  —  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

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 Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart, that the barriers which divided us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease, and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (#167).

1254) The Man Who Led the Attack on Pearl Harbor Meets Jesus

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Captain Mitsuo Fuchida  (1902-1976)

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     Mitsuo Fuchida was born on December 3, 1902 in Nagao, Japan.  Thirty-nine years and four days later he led the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  His story, told in his own words, tells of the mark he left on history— and the mark God left on him.

     I must admit I was more excited than usual as I awoke that morning at 3:00 a.m. Hawaii time.  As General Commander of the Air Squadron, I made last minute checks on the intelligence information reports in the Operations Room before going to warm up my single-engine three-seater plane.

     The sunrise in the east was magnificent above the white clouds as I led 360 planes towards Hawaii.  I knew my objective:  to surprise and cripple the American naval force in the Pacific.

     Like a hurricane out of nowhere, my torpedo planes, dive-bombers, and fighters struck suddenly with indescribable fury.  It was the most thrilling exploit of my career…

     Four years later, when the war ended, it was the end of my military career.  I became more and more unhappy, especially when the war crime trials opened in Tokyo.  Though I was never accused, General Douglas MacArthur summoned me to testify on several occasions.

     As I got off the train one day in Tokyo’s Shibuya Station, I saw an American distributing literature.  He handed me a pamphlet entitled “I Was a Prisoner of Japan.”  What I read eventually changed my life.  On that Sunday while I was in the air over Pearl Harbor, an American soldier named Jacob DeShazer had been on K.P. duty in an army camp in California.  When the radio announced the sneak attack which demolished Pearl Harbor, he shouted “Japs, just wait and see what we’re going to do to you.”

     One month later he volunteered for a secret mission with the Jimmy Doolittle Squadron– a surprise raid on Tokyo.  After the bombing raid, they flew on towards China but ran out of fuel and were forced to parachute into Japanese-held territory.  During the next 40 long months in confinement, DeShazer was cruelly treated.  After 25 months the U.S. prisoners were given a Bible to read…  There in a Japanese P.O.W. camp, he read and read— and eventually came to understand that the book was more than a historical classic.

     After DeShazer was released, he returned to Japan as a missionary, and in God’s providence gave Fuchida the tract he had written.  Fuchida continues:

     The peaceful motivation I had read about in the pamphlet was exactly what I was seeking.  Since the American had found it in the Bible, I decided to purchase one myself, despite my traditional Buddhist heritage.

     In the weeks that followed I read this book eagerly.  I came to the climactic drama— the Crucifixion.  I read in Luke 23:34 the prayer of Jesus Christ at His death: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  I was impressed that I was certainly one of those for whom He had prayed.  The many men I had killed had been slaughtered in the name of patriotism, for I did not yet know anything about the love of Christ  that he wishes to implant within every heart.

     Right at that moment I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time.  I understood the meaning of His death as a substitute for my wickedness; and so in prayer, I requested Him to forgive my sins, and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian with purpose in living…

     I believe with all my heart that those who will direct Japan— and all other nations— in the decades to come must not ignore the message of Christ.  He is the only hope for this troubled world.

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For Jacob Deshazer’s story  go to:

http://www.emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2016/01/19/1013-forgiving-the-enemy/

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I Timothy 1:13-14  —  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

I Timothy 1:15-16  —  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Romans 5:10  —  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

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“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

–Jesus, Luke 23:34

1253) Duck Hunters Finding Jesus

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By Phil Robertson, in Happy, Happy, Happy, pages 189…195f, Copyright, 2013.  

Phil Robertson began making duck calls in 1972 and has built the Duck Commander Company into a multi-million dollar international family business.  He is the patriarch of the Robertson family which is featured on the popular A&E television reality show Duck Dynasty.  He graduated from Louisiana Tech where for a while he was the starting quarterback.  But he got tired of missing out on duck hunting season to play football, so he quit the team in his junior year.  This gave second string quarterback Terry Bradshaw a chance to show what he could do.  Phil Robertson also does a little Gospel preaching.  

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     For the first twenty-eight years of my life, I didn’t know the gospel and I didn’t know Jesus Christ.  Now I’m trying to make up for lost time.  Jesus said all the authority was given to Him, and He told us to go preach the gospel and make disciples of all the people we baptize.  Basically, Jesus is telling me to share with people what I didn’t know until I was saved.  So I’ve been sharing everything I’ve learned since I was converted.  Nowadays, I get asked to speak to churches, colleges, hunting clubs, and other groups around the country… 

     One of the first opportunities I had to speak to a large crowd was at the Superdome in New Orleans in the early 1990s.  I was invited to speak and demonstrate duck calls during a hunting and fishing show.  I had a crowd of about one thousand people listening to me, and I blew my calls and gave them some hunting tips.  Then I reached into my bag and pulled out a Bible.  I told them, “Folks, while I’m here, I think I’m gonna preach you a little sermon.”  I thought I owed it to them to share the gospel.

     “I’m standing under a sign that says, ‘Budweiser is the king of beers,’ and everybody’s got their beers here today,” I told them.  “But I’m here to talk about the King of Kings.  I know I might look like a preacher, but I’m not.  Here’s how you can tell whether someone’s a preacher or not:  if he gets up and says some words and passes a hat for you to put money in, that’s a preacher.  This is free.  This is free of charge, which proves I’m not a preacher.”

     I preached for about forty-five minutes, and afterward several men came up and thanked me for sharing my story.  A few of them even invited me to preach at their churches, so that’s kind of how my road show started…  Because of the success of Duck Dynasty, I’m getting more opportunities to speak to larger audiences now.  But I don’t care if I’m talking to one person or one thousand; if I can help save one lost soul and bring him back to Jesus, it’s well worth it to me.

     The good Lord leads us to lost souls in many different ways.  We meet some of them at our speaking engagements, others at church, and some simply stop by the house.  I’ll never forget the time when someone called my house to order duck calls, back when Duck Commander was still being run out of our living room.  The man kept using the Lord’s name in vain during his conversation with me.

     “Let me ask you something,” I told him.  “Why would you keep cursing the only one who can save you from death?”

     There was silence on the other end.

     “You got my order?” the man asked.

     “Yeah, I got your order,” I told him.

     Click.  He hung up the phone.  A few minutes later, the phone rang again.

     “Mr. Robertson, I’ve never thought about what you said,” the guy told me.

     “Well, you ought to,” I told him.  “Let me ask you something:  Where are you from?”

     “Alabama,” he said.

     “You’re about ten hours away,” I said.  “You ought to load up and head this way.  I’ll tell you a story about the one you’ve been cursing.”

      About a week later, there was a knock on the front door.  This young buck stepped in the house and asked, “You know who I am?”

     “I don’t reckon I do,” I told him.

     “I’m that fella from Alabama who was cursing God,” he said.

     The man had a buddy with him, and I told them the story of Jesus Christ.  By the time I was finished, they were on the floor crying like babies.  I took them down to the river and baptized both of them that night.

     I remember another time when I gave a duck-call demonstration at a sporting goods store… I blew on some duck calls and then preached from the Bible.  When I was finished, I concluded with what I always tell my audience:  “Where else can you go on a Friday evening in America and get first-rate duck-call instruction and a gospel sermon at the same time?”

     Well, about five years later, a guy who was there wrote me a four-page letter.  He said he went to the sporting goods store to listen to a duck-call guru because he wanted to become a better duck hunter.  However, he wasn’t prepared to listen to what I had to say about the Bible, about how we’re all sinners, and we’re all going to die.  He thought I’d taken advantage of him.  When the man went home, he burned every one of my duck calls, and for the next several years told anyone who would listen to him that I was the sorriest, most low-down man he’d ever met.

     He shared that story on the first two pages of the letter he sent me, but I didn’t hold it against him and kept on reading.  On the third page, he told me he woke up one morning and realized he couldn’t get what he’d heard out of his mind.  He couldn’t forget me telling him that God loved him, his sins had been paid for, and that he could be raised from the dead.  After a couple of years of romping on me so badly, he asked himself why he was so mad at someone who loved him enough to tell him that story.  So he picked up a Bible and started reading it himself.  It confirmed everything I’d told him.  He told me his wife was thrilled, his kids were happy, and they were a much closer family now.  He felt guilty because he thought I knew he’d been poor-mouthing me, which, of course, I didn’t, and he wanted to apologize for being an idiot.

     Here’s the point of his letter:  if you really love someone and want to tell them about what God’s done for us, there’s no way to escape without being persecuted.  I usually tell anyone I talk to that I’m going to share the gospel because I love them.  I tell them it’s not contingent on how they feel about me.  If they hate me, I’m not going to hold it against them.  If they don’t like me, they can walk away.  But I have to love my enemies.  

     If anyone has a better explanation as to how I can be resurrected, I’m open to listening to new ideas.  I’m all ears when it comes to an alternative, but I’ve never found another way in which I’m going to make it out of here alive.  I don’t know any other way, so I’m sticking with what I know to be the gospel.

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Phil and his family tell their story at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjqccYmx13w

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Matthew 28:18-20  —  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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

Acts 16:30-31  —  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved– you and your household.”

Joshua 24:15b  —  (Joshua said), “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

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Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins,
and deliver us from all evil; confirm and strengthen us in all
goodness, and bring us to life everlasting. Amen.
Book of Common Prayer, Scotland

1252) A Skull on the Altar

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     A few weeks ago my wife and I went to a Saturday evening worship service at a Roman Catholic church near where we live.  The church building was well over a hundred years old and was built in the traditional, ornate style.  It was a beautiful sanctuary with an elaborate, huge altar in the center, a smaller altar on each side, and statues of Jesus, Peter, Paul, and several other apostles and saints positioned in various places on those altars.  On one of the smaller statues was what appeared to be a monk, and in his hand he held a human skull.  After the service, my wife asked me about that.  “Did you see the statue of the man holding a skull?  What was that all about?,” she asked.

     I told her I did not know who the monk was, but I thought that the skull might be a ‘memento mori.’  Memento mori is a Latin phrase which means “remember your mortality,” or, “remember you must die.”  The term came to refer to a type of artwork that served to remind people of their mortality.  It might be a painting of the Grim Reaper at the bed of one dying, it might be a carving of a skull kept on one’s desk, or it might be a skull shaped ring, pendant, or clock.  This style of art goes back to antiquity, and it reached its greatest popularity in the Middle Ages, present at that time in many churches and even homes.  The intent of the memento mori was very different from the cartoon-type skeletons we see all over the place at Halloween.  The old memento mori served as an ever present reminder of approaching death and judgment. 

     So that skull high upon that altar in the front of that church has a message for all who see it.  “This skull,” it means to say, “was once a living, breathing, speaking human being, but now that person is dead and all that is left of him is this skull.  Pay attention, therefore, to what you hear in this sanctuary, because someday soon that is what you will be, and when that time comes, your only hope will be in Jesus Christ who is worshiped here.  So listen close, and do not disregard or disrespect what is spoken in this place.”

     The Church Year itself has another sort of memento mori, another ‘reminder of death.’  At Ash Wednesday services in many churches, ashes are put on everyone’s forehead as they hear the words, “Remember that you are dust, and unto the dust you shall return.”  This is a most unpleasant thought to be sure, but it is a most necessary reminder.  The biggest mistake in life would be to forget that fact, and in forgetting, not make the necessary preparation for that inevitable end.  But when you come to church, you hear a more hopeful message, and if you keep coming, you will give that hope the opportunity to sink in and take hold in your heart and mind, giving you courage and confidence even in the face of death.

     Lent then moves toward Easter Sunday, and on that day we hear the words of the angels in the tomb to those looking for Jesus.  “He is not here,” they said, “HE IS RISEN!”  And so not only during Lent, but all year, do keep in mind that you will die (‘memento mori’), but then also remember the words of Jesus in John 14:19 to all believers:  “Because I live, you also will live.”

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Psalm 90:12  —  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Genesis 3:19  —  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die”

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Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.  Abide with us, for the days are hastening on, and we hasten with them, and our life is short and transient as a dream. Abide with us, for we are weak and helpless, and if thou abide not with us, we perish by the way.  Abide with us until the Daystar ariseth, and the morning light appeareth, when we shall abide forever with thee.  Amen.

–James Burns

1251) Words of Wisdom and Common Sense from C. S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the most brilliant writers who ever set pen to paper.  He was an insightful thinker, had remarkable common sense, and there may not have been anyone in the last century who was a better writer about the Christian faith and the human condition.  I have quoted him often, and here are a few more of his gems.

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Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.

If anyone says that sex, in itself, is bad, Christianity contradicts him at once.  But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”  If they mean that, I think they are wrong.  I think it is everything to be ashamed of.  There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.

There are only two kinds of people in the end:  those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”

A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell.

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.

Everyone has noticed how hard it is to turn our thoughts to God when everything is going well with us.  We have all we want is a terrible saying when all does not include God.  We find God an interruption.  As St Augustine says somewhere, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full— there’s nowhere for Him to put it.”  Or as a friend of mine said, “We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.”  Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him.  Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as he leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for.  While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him.  What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

Our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world…, (so) when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it.  Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.  There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.  If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

Faith is the art of holding on to things in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.

The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.

You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.

 If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

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Proverbs 1:7  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 3:13  —  Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding.

James 3:13  —  Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

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PSALM 25:1…4-5:

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust…

Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

1250) What Makes Churches Grow?

From The One Year Christian History, by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten, 2003, pages 372-373.

     In 1928 the Sudan Interior Mission sent the first missionaries to the Wallamo tribe of Ethiopia.  They faced a difficult task, for the Wallamos were Satan worshipers.  On the first day of the year the tribe performed a ceremony resembling the Old Testament Passover, but that was, in reality, a sacrifice to the devil.  A bull was sacrificed, its blood was smeared on the doorposts of each house, and a drop of blood was placed on each family member.  The ceremony ended with the head of the household on his knees praying to Satan.  Then everyone ate the raw meat.

     Wealthy Wallamos were slave owners.  If a slave owner decided his slaves had had enough children, he would have all further babies born to them buried alive.

     By 1930 the Ethiopian government was attempting to stop the infanticide and slavery among the Wallamos.  In 1935 Emperor Haile Selassie was in the process of trying to modernize his nation when Italian troops under Mussolini invaded.  Italian troops had attacked once before in 1896 but that time Ethiopia had overpowered them.  That humiliating defeat marked the first time in history that an African nation had defeated a European invader.  Now Mussolini was determined to avenge that defeat.

     This time the Ethiopians were no match for the well-equipped Italian army.  They fought courageously, but in May 1936 the capital of Addis Ababa fell.

     The Italian army advanced into the tribal areas, demanding that the missionaries leave.  On April 16, 1937, the day before the missionaries to the Wallamo left, they shared the Lord’s Supper with the believers.  When the missionaries had first arrived, there were no believers in the tribe.  Now, nine years later, there were forty-eight.

     The next day Italian army trucks took the twenty-six missionaries and their children to Addis Ababa for evacuation.  As the trucks pulled away, the missionaries wondered if they would ever be able to return, and what they would find if they did.

     With the missionaries gone, the Italians tried to stamp out the fledgling church.  Many church leaders were given one hundred lashes, and one was given four hundred.  After the lashings they could not lie on their backs for months, and three died.

     Toro, a leader in the Wallamo church, was able to stay in hiding for six months before he finally captured.  He was given forty lashes.  Then an Italian officer wearing hobnailed boots jumped up and down on his chest, nearly crushing his rib cage.  Later as he lay immobile in his prison cell, he saw a vision of Jesus, who said to him, “Do not be afraid.  You are my child.”

     After a slow recovery, Toro was released from prison, only to be arrested again when he resumed preaching.  This time he and other church leaders were taken to the marketplace, stripped naked, and each given more than one hundred lashes.  Back in jail; Toro’s Italian captors taunted him saying, “Where is your God who can deliver you from us?  You’ll never get out of here alive.”  Hardly able to speak, Toro whispered that God could deliver him “if he chooses— and if not, he has promised to take me to heaven to be with him there.”

     Later, Toro and his fellow believers were praying when a fierce thunderstorm descended upon the prison.  The gale-force winds literally blew the roof off.  Torrents of water separated the mud walls from the foundation.  Most of the non-Christian prisoners escaped.  The frightened jailers were convinced the storm had come in answer to the prisoners’ prayers.  “Ask your God to withhold his anger,” they begged Toro, “and we will release you.”  They kept their word and released him.

     Finally on July 4, 1943, the missionaries were able to return to the Wallamo.  During the six years that they were gone, the forty-eight believers had multiplied to eighteen thousand.

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“When the prisoners were finally released, they fearlessly testified about why they were willing to suffer for Christ.  They explained the Gospel– that God’s Son had come to earth to pay for all our sins by his death on the cross, and conquered death, sin, and Satan by rising from the dead.  He now invited anyone from any nation to believe in Him, promising he would forgive their sins, walk with them through life, and take them to heaven when they died…  The only portion of Scriptures the Wallamo Christians had was the Gospel of Mark, along with a pamphlet that contained a few other verses.  They made up their own hymns, sent out Christians to bring the Gospel to other tribes, and established a hundred congregations.”

What’s the Big Deal About Other Religions?, John Ankerberg and Dillon Burroughs.

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A church in rural Ethiopia

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Matthew 13:31-32  —  (Jesus) told them another parable:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:43-45a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

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Sovereign God, we worship you and acknowledge that you know all of those who suffer in your name.  We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul to see that even though they remain captive, their chains have furthered the gospel, not frustrated it.   May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.  Amen.

1249) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb3)

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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  (Day Seven)

O Lord and Maker of all things, from whose creative power the first light came forth, who looked upon the world’s first morning and saw that it was good, I praise Thee for this light that now streams through my windows to rouse me to the life of another day.
I praise Thee for the life that stirs within me:
I praise Thee for the bright and beautiful world into which I go:
I praise Thee for earth and sea and sky, for scudding cloud and singing bird:
I praise Thee for the work Thou hast given me to do: I praise Thee for all that Thou hast given me to fill my leisure hours:
I praise Thee for my friends:
I praise Thee for music and books and good company and all pure pleasures.
I pray Thee, Lord, to give me a tender heart today towards all those to whom the morning light brings less joy than it brings to me:
Those in whom the pulse of life grows weak:
Those who must lie abed through all the sunny hours:  The blind, who are shut off from the light of day; The overworked, who have no joy of leisure:
The unemployed, who have no joy of labor:
The bereaved, whose hearts and homes are desolate:
And grant Thy mercy on them all.
O Light that never fades, as the light of day now streams through these windows and floods this room, so let me open to Thee the windows of my heart, so that all my life may be filled by the radiance of Thy presence.  Let there be nothing within me to darken the brightness of the day.  Let the Spirit of Him whose life was the light of men rule within my heart till eventide.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Day Seven)

O eternal Being who lives in everlasting light; now, as the world’s light fails, I seek the brightness of Thy presence.
Thou knowest no weariness; now, as my limbs grow heavy and my spirit begins to flag, I commit my soul to Thee.
Thou slumberest never; now, as I lie down to sleep, I cast myself upon Thy care.
Thou keepest watch eternally; now, when I lie helpless, I rely upon Thy love.
Before I sleep, O God, I would review this day’s doings in the light of Thine eternity.
I remember with bitterness the duties I have shirked:
I remember with sorrow the hard words I have spoken:
I remember with shame the unworthy thoughts I have harbored.
Use these memories, O God, to bring me to repentance, and then forever blot out my sins.
I remember with gladness the beauties of the world today:
I remember with sweetness the deeds of kindness I have today seen done by others:
I remember with thankfulness the work Thou hast today enabled me to do and the truth Thou best enabled me to learn.
Use these memories, O God, to humble me, and let them live for ever in my soul.

Before I sleep, I would for a moment rejoice in the loves and friendships with which Thou hast blessed my life.  I rejoice in the dear memory of ____ and ____ and of knowing that, though they have passed from this earth, they have not passed beyond Thy love and care.  I rejoice in my continued fellowship with ____ and ____ whom I now entrust to Thy keeping.  And for all who this night have not where to lay their heads, or who, though lying down, cannot sleep for pain or for anxiety, I crave Thy pity in the name of our Lord Christ.  Amen.

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Luke 5:16  —  Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Mark 1:35  —  Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Matthew 14:23  —  After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.  Later that night, he was there alone.