1248) On the Wrong Side of History?

Two articles from http://www.breakpoint.org:  the first by Eric Metaxas, posted September 8, 2016; the second by Chuck Colson, posted October 10, 2014.

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PROGRESSIVELY REGRESSIVE SEXUALITY

     Sexual progressives claim to be ushering in a “brave new world” of freedom.  But their “new” morality is as old as the hills.

     How often have you heard sexual progressives claim that those of us who hold to traditional sexual morality and marriage are “on the wrong side of history?”

     But as one new book points out, it’s the proponents of the sexual revolution who are embracing a sexual morality that history left behind millennia ago— in the dusty ruins of the Roman Forum.

     Yes, today Western civilization is undergoing a dramatic cultural shift.  In just a few short years our society has fundamentally altered the meaning of marriage, embraced the notion that men can become women, and is now promoting the idea that grown men should be welcome to share a bathroom with women and young girls.  Not unexpectedly, we’re also seeing movement toward the normalization of polygamy, pedophilia, and incest.

     It’s precisely in times like this that we need some historical perspective.  Which is why Lutheran pastor Matthew Rueger’s new book, Sexual Morality in a Christless World, is a timely godsend.  In it, Rueger shows how Christian sexual morality rocked the pagan world of ancient Rome.  The notions of self-giving love, sexual chastity, and marital fidelity were foreign, even shocking to the people of that time.

     Citing existing scholarship, Rueger details the Roman sexual worldview that prevailed for hundreds of years.  Women and children were viewed as sexual objects; slaves— male and female– could expect to be raped; there was widespread prostitution; and predatory homosexuality was common.  Christian sexual morality might have been seen as repressive by the licentious, but it was a gift from God for their victims.

     Rueger writes that “Claims in our day of being progressive and moving forward by accepting the ‘new prevailing views on sexuality and same-sex marriage’ are horribly misinformed … Contemporary views about sexuality are simply a revival of an older and much less loving view of the world.”

     But they are also a revival of an older and impoverished view of human beings.  Imagine the reaction of a pagan Roman slave girl who learned for the first time that she had value— not monetary value as a piece of goods to be enjoyed or discarded by her owner— but eternal value because she was made in the very image of God.

     Or imagine the pang of conscience felt by an unfaithful Roman husband when he learned that God became incarnate, and took on human flesh, and that how he treated his own body and the bodies of others mattered to God.  Mattered immensely.

     Folks, we can’t look away and ignore this unholy revival of pagan sexuality and its cheapened view of human beings.  But we also can’t wring our hands in fear or throw them up in defeat.  As Rueger points out, Christ and His Church radically transformed a far more sexually cruel and chaotic world than ours.

     Look to those ancient believers who went before us:  Rather than succumbing to or accommodating the spirit of the age, new converts in the early Church came to understand, as Rueger writes, that “Christian morality is based on Christ’s all-encompassing purity and self-emptying love… Christians could no longer live as the Greeks or Romans.  Their worldview and self-view was distinctly different.  They were now one with Christ in heart and soul.”

     Now, their distinctiveness, as Rueger writes, “would not spare them from suffering; it would invite suffering.”  It’s pretty clear now that the same holds true for us.  Will we bend the knee to this revived pagan sexuality, or will we hold out to a needy world the freedom of God’s plan for human sexuality?

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JUDAISM’S SEXUAL REVOLUTION;  WHY JUDAISM REJECTED HOMOSEXUALITY

     So often we hear that allowing two men or two women to marry won’t hurt anyone, and certainly not “straight” people.  Well, the truth is, we already know what happens when a society promotes sexual license and devalues marriage.  We just have to look at history.

     Way back before anyone was talking about so-called “gay marriage,” radio talk show host and Jewish theologian Dennis Prager wrote a fascinating article called —  get ready for this —  “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality.”

     Before the Jews were placed in the Ancient Near East, the pagan world was already a sexual free-for-all that debased women, boys, and religion itself in the service of male lust.  Every aspect of life was sexualized.  The pagan gods engaged in no-holds-barred sex, and so did the people.  Homosexuality had almost unquestioned acceptance in the ancient world.

     But the key issue wasn’t gender, it was power.  Prager quotes philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who wrote, “The central distinction in [ancient] sexual morality was … between active and passive roles.”  Because boys and women were on the receiving end of sexual activity, they were “very often treated interchangeably as [simple] objects of [male] desire.”

     Not surprisingly, then, women were relegated to the sidelines, important for giving birth and running the home, but not important as real and equal partners to men, who had other sexual options —  with boys and other men.

     That’s why Judaism’s claim that God created sex only for a man and a woman in marriage was so revolutionary — and despised by ancient pagans and modern pagans, I might add, as well.  As Genesis said, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

     Prager writes, “This revolution forced the sexual genie into the marital bottle.  It ensured that sex no longer dominated society, it heightened male-female love and sexuality (and thereby almost alone created the possibility of love and eroticism within marriage), and it began the arduous task of elevating the status of women.”  No wonder,” Prager notes, that the “improvement of the condition of women has only occurred in Western civilization,” which historically has been the “least tolerant of homosexuality.”

     Of course, I should note that it was the Apostle Paul who further carried this Jewish sexual revolution throughout the ancient world.  As Sarah Ruden wrote in her recent book Paul Among the People, predatory homosexuality was common in Rome and Greece; women and children were just property.

     Through Paul, however, Christianity ensured that western civilization promoted sex within the confines of marriage between one man and one woman, and placed off limits the sexual abuse of boys and slaves.

     Now the point is simply this:  God instituted marriage for the good of man (restraining and channeling his sexuality), for the protection and dignity of women, and the flourishing of human society.

     Western civilization, the greatest ever, took this to heart, but forgets it now at its own peril.

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Matthew 19:4-6  —  “Haven’t you read,” (Jesus) replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘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.”

Romans 1:21-22a  —  Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.

Romans 1:24  —  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator— who is forever praised.

Romans 1:26-27a  —   Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.  Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.

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O God, you command us not to commit adultery.  May we so fear and love you that in matters of sex our words and conduct are pure and honorable, and that husband and wife may love and respect each other; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Prayer based on 6th commandment and its meaning in the The Small Catechism by Martin Luther

1247) Napoleon and Jesus

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Napoleon Bonaparte  (1769-1821)

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From Conversations with General Bertrand at St. Helena, published 1861.  This was published 40 years after Napoleon’s death by the sons of General Bertrand.  There is some disagreement on the authenticity of the words attributed to Napoleon, and Napoleon’s religious beliefs remain a bit of a mystery.  But whatever the origin of these words, they speak the truth

Napoleon:  Such is the fate of great men!  So it was with Caesar and Alexander.  And I, too, am forgotten.  In very little time, the name of a conqueror and an emperor is nothing but the subject for a report in school.  Our exploits are tasks given to pupils by their tutor, who sit in judgment upon us, awarding censure or praise.  And mark what is soon to become of me.  I will die before my time, and my dead body must return to the earth to become food for worms.  Behold the destiny, near at hand, of him who has been called the great Napoleon.  

   What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved, adored, and which is extending over all the earth!  The death of Christ!  It is the death of God. (For a moment the Emperor was silent; as General Bertrand made no reply, Napoleon solemnly added), If you do not perceive that Jesus Christ is God, very well, then I did wrong to make you a general…

General Bertrand:  I can not conceive, sire, how a great man like you can believe that the Supreme Being ever exhibited himself to men under a human form, with a body, a face, mouth, and eyes.  Let Jesus be whatever you please– the highest intelligence, the purest heart, the most profound legislator, and, in all respects, the greatest person who has ever existed– I grant it.  Still he was simply a man, who taught his disciples, and deluded credulous people.  The ascendancy of Jesus over his time was like the ascendancy of the gods and the heroes of fable.  If Jesus has revolutionized the world, I see in that only the power of genius and the action of a commanding spirit, which vanquishes the world as so many conquerors have done– Alexander, Caesar, you, sire, and Mohammed– with a sword.

Napoleon:  I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man.  Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions.  That resemblance does not exist.  There is between Christianity and other religions the distance of infinity.  Everything in Christ astonishes me.  His spirit overawes me, and his will confounds me.  Between him and whoever else in the world there is no possible term of comparison.  He is truly a being by himself.  His ideas and his sentiments, the truth which he announces, his manner of convincing, are not explained either by human organization or by the nature of things.

   The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything about Him is above me; everything remains grand, a grandeur which overpowers.  His religion is a revelation from an intelligence which certainly is not that of man.  There is there a profound originality which has created a series of words and of maxims before unknown.  Jesus borrowed nothing from our science.  One can absolutely find nowhere, but in him alone, the imitation or the example of his life…

   I search in vain in history to find the similar to Jesus Christ, or anything which can approach the gospel.  Neither history, nor humanity, nor the ages, nor nature, offer me anything with which I am able to compare it or to explain it.  Here everything is extraordinary.  The more I consider the gospel, the more I am assured that it is beyond the march of events, and above the human mind.

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     The story of Napoleon is one of the most amazing in all history.  In just a few years he rose from being a minor officer in the army to being the ruler of France and conqueror of almost all of Europe.  Upon being named emperor of this vast empire, Napoleon’s mother had a brief, but realistic reply.  She rolled her eyes and said, “Well, I wonder how long this will last.”  It turned out to last not very long at all.  There were a few tremendous years, but then a rapid decline; and finally disgrace, exile, and an early death.  And that was the end of that little tyrant who marched his army all over Europe making widows and orphans.  

But if the above words are in fact from him, he did come to a true understanding of Jesus.

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John 1:1… 14  —  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Luke 8:25  —  “Where is your faith?” (Jesus) asked his disciples.  In fear and amazement they asked one another, “Who is this?  He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.”

Colossians 1:15-17  —  (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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They were longing for a better country—a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:16a).

Fix Thou our steps, O Lord, that we stagger not at the uneven motions of the world, but steadily go on to our glorious home; neither censuring our journey by the weather we meet with, nor turning out of the way for anything that befalls us.  The winds are often rough, and our own weight presses us downwards.  Reach forth, O Lord, thy hand, thy saving hand, and speedily deliver us.  Teach us, O Lord, to use this transitory life as pilgrims returning to their beloved home; that we may take what our journey requires, and not think of settling in this foreign country.  Amen.

–Author unknown, quoted in Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p. 64, compiled by Veronica Zundel, Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 1983.

1246) The View From Above

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D-Day invasion, June 6, 1944; the view from the air.

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From Surprised By Jesus, by Tim Stafford, 2006, pages 236-237.

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     (As a church) we are flawed, but together we are also the body of Christ.  We are bigger than any individual, bigger than any nation or culture.  We transcend East and West, North and South.  We are a billion hands and feet.  The church is an enormous fact brimming with life…, a vast varied congregation in every nation and tongue.

     …I listened to Stephen Ambrose’s book D-Day on a recent car trip.  In spellbinding detail Ambrose chronicles the massive planning and preparation of the invasion of Normandy in the Second World War.  Ambrose interviewed many soldiers who were there, and he offers their perspective.

     Often they experienced screw-ups.  Cockamamied plans went predictably wrong.  Bombs were dropped miles off target.  Men landed at the wrong place at the wrong time and with the wrong equipment.  Many died tragically through their own fellow soldiers’ mistakes.  Landing craft got off course and stuck on sandbars.  Some were destroyed by German artillery before they could even reach the beach.  Many men who reached shore couldn’t find their unit, and those who did were often bereft of equipment to do the assignments they had been trained for.  Seen from the battlefront, the scene was confusion, blood, and terror.  Many officers were sure that the invasion had failed, for all they saw was calamity.

     From above, however, the view was different.  Pilots looking down saw wave after wave of ships and planes in magnificent array (and then the beach secured and the army advancing).  The local scene might be chaos, but the greater outlook was filled with hope of final victory.  As events would show, the view from above was the accurate perspective, offering far better clues to the truth than the view closer to the action.

     So for us.  The wider our view of the church, the more likely we will understand the resurrection life that has begun.

     The church may often seem weak and foolish compared to a political faction, a skilled lobby, or a well-organized nonprofit organization.  Jesus’ church, however, demonstrates qualities they cannot touch, such as worship, proclamation of the gospel of peace, and sacrificial love.  Our strength lies in doing what is valuable in Jesus’ sight.  Our glory will be revealed on the day of the Lord Jesus.

     We who follow Jesus are tangible evidence of ‘the kingdom come.’  We are a movement that Jesus carefully constructed, shaping it from his own family of historical Judaism.  This is no mushroom, popping up on the fringes of culture.  It is more like a redwood tree, growing from a sliver of green into something rooted and massive and full of life.

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I Corinthians 12:27  —  You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

I Peter 2:9-10  —  You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Ephesians 1:18-23  —  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.   And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

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Most gracious Father,
we pray to you for your holy Church.
Fill it with all truth;
in all truth with all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it.
Where it is in error, direct it.
Where anything is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and defend it.
Where it is in want, provide for it.
Where it is divided, heal it and reunite it in your love;
for the sake of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

–William Laud  (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

1245) Don’t Miss This Movie (b)

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     (…continued)  The movie Risen has recently been released on DVD.  Risen, as in, ‘Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.’  Most of the recent movies based on Bible stories have not been all that good, but this one is tremendous.  It tells a great story, and it contains a powerful, true message, and you should see it.  

     Risen tells the story of the days following Easter, but it takes an interesting and creative approach.  Jesus and the disciples make a few appearances, but they are not the main characters.  The main character is Clavius, a Roman soldier who was at the crucifixion of Jesus.  When the body of Jesus disappears Sunday morning, Pontius Pilate is convinced the body was stolen by the disciples.  Pilate thinks the disciples want to spread the story that their leader had risen from the dead so they could keep their new religion going.  This would cause all kinds of trouble for the Romans, so Pilate gives Clavius the task of finding the body to they could put an end to those rumors.

     Guess what?  He doesn’t find a dead body.  The movie tells the story of his search and what he does find.

     There are two important things about the movie.

     First, the story is told not from the perspective of the disciples, but from the perspective an unbeliever, which makes it really interesting.  Clavius is a rough and tough soldier and has no time for the religious nonsense of these backward Jews.  He is an unbeliever, just like many people today who will see this movie.

     Secondly, though this story of Clavius is fictional, the movie respects the Biblical story.  When it touches on the New Testament accounts it is accurate, and integrates the Biblical material in a wonderful way. 

     Not only that, but the whole ‘missing body’ issue is a huge part of the historical evidence for the resurrection—that evidence I read about and pondered in those 25 books.  We do need to ask why the disciples would want to steal the dead body of Jesus  Why would they want to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus when they had absolutely nothing to gain by it and everything to lose?  And why didn’t the Jews and the Romans simply produce the dead body of Jesus and end the Christian proclamation before it even began?  How difficult would that have been?  Yes, what we have to go on is primarily the New Testament, written by Christians—but again we must ask, why they would write what wasn’t true when they had absolutely nothing to gain by it.  Blaise Pascal (who as an adult came to believe in Jesus after looking into it) said, “I tend to believe those who get their throats cut for what they write.”  The disciples and New Testament writers did die from what they wrote and proclaimed, and they died in some awful ways.

     This is how the case for the truth of the resurrection of Jesus is built.  This is just small sample of the kinds of arguments that finally convinced me of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and they are presented in this movie in a creative, powerful, and entertaining way.

     I am not familiar with the screenplay writer or director of this movie, and in what I have read about it, not much is said about their motives.  But whether or not it was intentional, there is much historical validity in the movie’s compelling case for the resurrection of Jesus.  Every Christian at one time or another wonders if this is all true.  Doubts always have a way of creeping in.  This movie will challenge you to “doubt your doubts.”

     The central fact of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  If there is no resurrection, we of all people are to be most pitied (as Paul said), and Christians are wasting their time in church Sunday mornings.  But if Jesus did rise from the dead, that makes Christianity unique among all the religions of the world, and that gives us, to once again use Peter’s words, a firm and solid reason for the hope that we have.  If this is true, it is the most important concern in your life, now and forever.

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To view the two official trailers for Risen go to:

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcTVLfn5i8g

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xxgm2TJr2m0

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For more, read this blog by Eric Metaxas that I posted last winter when Risen first appeared in theaters:

https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/1049-dont-miss-this-movie/

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Luke 24:1-3  —  On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

Matthew 28:5-7  —  The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples:  ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him.’  Now I have told you.”

Matthew 28:11-13  —  While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”

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

II Peter 1:16  —  We did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

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Almighty God, increase our hope when it is small, awaken it when it is dormant, confirm it when it is wavering, strengthen it when it is weak, and raise it up when it is overthrown.  We pray this in the name of Jesus, our Risen Lord.  Amen.

–John Calvin

1244) Don’t Miss This Movie (a)

     I Peter 3:15 says, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord; and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  My hope is in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and the reason for that hope is because I believe that Jesus rose from the dead.  In I Corinthians 15 Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.”

     A great danger for people who have grown up in the church is that they have heard about the resurrection of Jesus so many times and for so long that they can begin to take it for granted.  But it is amazing for a man to come back to life like that.  This wasn’t just someone mistaken for dead, like the ‘90 minutes in heaven’ stories.  This was stone cold dead, after being flogged, executed in a most horrible way, stabbed to make sure he was dead, put in a sealed tomb, and there begin the process of decay for almost 40 hours.  And then, come alive.  You don’t see that every day— or ever.

     I like to read biographies of famous people.  Some people I read about are still alive, though most have died.  And all those who have died are still dead.  Except one.  That includes all the religious leaders that have come and gone—Mohammed, Buddha, Confucius, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, and all the rest.  Even their most dedicated followers will readily admit they are dead.  Therefore, no one should ever take the story of the resurrection of Jesus for granted.  It is unique in all of human history.  It was God himself who, in Jesus Christ, lived and died and rose again.  This is the reason for the hope that we have in us. 

     That is, if Jesus did rise from the dead.  Not everyone believes that, of course, not even everyone that belongs to a church.  There was a time when I was pretty sure I didn’t believe it anymore, but I was still going to church (at least for a while).  I had decided I would go until I moved out of my parents’ home, where I would have otherwise been endlessly pestered if I ever missed Sunday morning worship.  I decided it would be easier to fake it for a while, and then gradually drift away when I moved out and my parents weren’t looking.

     But then something happened.  I decided to take the time to look into it.  After all, there were some smart people I knew that did still believe this story. Someone told me about a few books that made sense out of what I saw as nonsense in much of the Bible, and they talked me into reading them.  Even though I was a teenager and was quite sure I already knew almost everything, I thought it might be a good idea to see if there was anything I might have missed on this subject.  After all, this question did concern what would happen to me after I died, which I knew even then could happen any time.  And I also knew that after my death, I would be dead for a very long time.

     So I read the books that were suggested and was amazed to see there were other people who had wondered about the same things that I was wondering about.  And these people had gone through the bother of looking into it, and had come up all kinds of interesting, amazing, and convincing things that had never occurred to me.  A few books led to a few more and then to dozens of books.  I began to believe again that the Bible made sense and told the truth, that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and that He still lives.  The most convincing books I read were by people like myself who at first did not believe, and then after taking the time to look for the answers to their hard questions, came to faith.  

     Not only did I then decide I really did believe in Jesus, but I also decided I would become a pastor and tell others about “the reasons for the hope that we have within us.”  So I went to seminary where my faith was challenged and deepened, and then to my first congregation out in the northwest corner of North Dakota.  I was eager to share all this information I had about how Jesus really rose from the dead.  But I was surprised to find that none of the ranchers out there were asking that question.  “Of course, Jesus rose from the dead,” was their usual response, “doesn’t everybody know that?  Tell us something we don’t know.”

     But that was 35 years ago.  Since then the Christian faith has been under assault, ridiculed on television and in movies, blasphemed in popular music, and marginalized by our government.  For many people, religion is no longer a matter of truth, but a matter of whatever you find useful.  So now, more than ever in my lifetime, the case has to be made for many people, and we have to be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have in Jesus.

     I hear from people who have children and grandchildren and friends who are like I was, not sure they want to believe in God anymore.  I understand that.  They ask me what they can say to them.  There are all sorts of things to say, all sorts of answers worth considering.  I could say, “Here is a list of 25 books that I found helpful.  You and your loved ones read all these books, let me know when you are done, and then we can all have a talk.”

     Do you think that will work?  I don’t either.

     But you could watch a movie together.  That would be much easier.  The movie Risen has recently been released on DVD.  Risen, as in, ‘Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.’  Most of the recent movies based on Bible stories have not been all that good, but this one is tremendous.  It tells a great story, it contains a powerful and true message, and you should see it.  (continued…)

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I Peter 3:15a  —  In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

I Corinthians 15:19-20a  —  If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead.

Acts 1:3a  —  After his suffering, (Jesus) presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.

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Grant me, Lord,
the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to me on earth.
Lead me to repent of my sins, the evil I have done and the good I have not done;
and strengthen me to follow the steps of your Son, in the way that leads to the fullness of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer (adapted)

1243) Let Me Not Live to Be Useless

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     She was 89.  Her arthritis kept her from moving around freely in the nursing home, and now that her sight was gone, she was even more reluctant to venture out on her own.  She had no family, and all her friends were gone.  No one came to visit her.

     Most days she lay on her bed wrapped in an afghan.    “I’m not good for anything anymore,” she said; but then added, “All I can do is pray.”

     At first her prayers were only for herself, almost self-pitying prayers.  Then she got bolder, as she thought of the children she used to babysit, now adults.  She began to think pray-fully of them, even praying urgently for them.  Then she began to pray for the people in the nursing home, and their families and those who came to visit, and those who worked there, and for people she heard about on the radio.  The list grew and grew.

     She spent the long dark days in prayer, as well as the long sleepless nights.  Prayer became for her, not “all I can do,” but “all I must do.”  It was almost a compulsion.

     She began to feel important again, and needed, and very close to people, and to God.

–From an old magazine clipping, source lost.

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Colossians 3:17  —  Whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 1:15-19a  —  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of  wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

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O Lord, let me not live to be useless.  Amen.  –John Wesley 

Lord, give me life until my work is done; and give me work until my life is done.  Amen.

1242) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb2)

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  (Sixth Day)

O God, who has proven Thy love for mankind by sending us Jesus Christ our Lord, and has illumined our human life by the radiance of His presence, I give Thee thanks for this Thy greatest gift.

For my Lord’s days upon earth;

For the record of His deeds of love;

For the words He spoke for my guidance and help;

For His obedience unto death;

For His triumph over death;

For the presence of His Spirit with me now;

I thank thee, O God.

Grant that the remembrance of the blessed Life that once was lived out on this common earth under these ordinary skies may remain with me in all the tasks and duties of this day.  Let me remember:

His eagerness, not to be served, but to serve;

His sympathy with suffering of every kind;

His bravery in the face of His own suffering;

His meekness of bearing, so that, when reviled, He did not revile in return;

His steadiness of purpose in keeping to His appointed task;

His simplicity, self-discipline, and serenity of spirit;

His complete reliance upon Thee, His Father in Heaven.

In each of these ways give me grace to follow in his footsteps.

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I commit all my ways unto Thee.  I turn my soul over to Thy keeping.  I pledge my life to Thy service.  May this day be for me a day of obedience and of charity, a day of happiness and of peace.  May all my walk and conversation be such as becomes the gospel of Christ.  Amen.

Jesus Praying in the Desert

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EVENING PRAYER  (Twenty-first Day)

O Thou Creator of all things that are, I lift up my heart in gratitude to Thee for this day’s happiness:

For the mere joy of living;
For all the sights and sounds around me;
For the sweet peace of the country and the pleasant bustle of the town;
For all things bright and beautiful and happy;
For friendship and good company;
For work to perform and the skill and strength to perform it;
For a time to play when the day’s work was done, and for health and a glad heart to enjoy it.

Yet let me never think, O eternal Father, that I am here to stay.  Let me still remember that I am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.  Preserve me by Thy grace, good Lord, from so losing myself in the joys of earth that I may have no longing left for the purer joys of heaven.  Let not the happiness of this day become a snare to my too worldly heart.  And if, instead of happiness, I have to-day suffered any disappointment or defeat, if there has been any sorrow where I had hoped for joy, or sickness where I had looked for health, give me grace to accept it from Thy hand as a loving reminder that this is not my home.

I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast so set eternity within my heart that no earthly thing can ever, satisfy me wholly.  I thank Thee that every present joy is so mixed with sadness and unrest as to lead my mind upwards to the contemplation of a more perfect blessedness.  And above all I thank Thee for the sure hope and promise of an endless life which Thou hast given me in the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

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Philippians 2:1-5  —  Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

Ecclesiastes 3:11a  —  God has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart.

Hebrews 11:13-16  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country— a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

1241) Our Broken World

From a sermon by A. W. Tozer, quoted in Randy Alcorn’s blog September 3, 2016 (www.epm.org).

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     We are told in in Proverbs 3:19 and Jeremiah 10:12 that the Lord created the earth and stretched out the heavens by wisdom, understanding, and discretion.  Those are two of many verses in the Bible that tell us about the wisdom of God.  We have to grant goodness and wisdom to God, or we have no place to go, no rock to stand on, no way to do any thinking or reasoning or believing.

     But someone will ask, “If God is good and wise, how do you explain cancer, prison camps, mass executions, wars, and all the other evils that are in the world?”

     Let me answer by an allegory.  Let us say that a man is very wise, and not only wise, but is rich to the point of having all the money in the world.  And let us suppose he decides to build the most beautiful palace that has ever been built in the world.  So in some little country, let’s say in Europe, he gathers together the finest artists and architects, the finest designers that can be found anywhere.

     Then he says, “Money is no object.  I want the most beautiful building in all the world.  I want its floors to be gold, I want its walls to be jasper.  I want it to be studded with diamonds and rubies.  I want it to be the epitome of all that is beautiful.  Now go to work and give me the best that you can give.”  So pooling their wisdom and genius, they built a most beautiful building— a building that makes the Taj Mahal look like a barn.

     Let us then suppose that after a year or so, the political fortunes change and a conquering army comes in and takes over that little country.  They take over the palace, and crude, careless, barbarian soldiers with hobnailed boots make it their home.  They care nothing about beauty, about art, about the diamonds and gold.  Let us suppose that they stable their horses in the palace, that they spit on the floor and throw garbage all over the place and make a shambles out of it.  Eventually, the beautiful palace is filled with dirt, old rags, and filth of every kind.  The man who owns it and the artists who built it have fled into exile.

     While the heel of the barbarian treads down the little country, one passerby whispers to another, “There’s the great palace, the greatest concentration of universal beauty known in the world.”  And the other person says, “But look at it.  It’s a pigpen!  How can you say it’s beautiful?”

     “Just wait for a while,” the first passerby replies.  “There’s been a war and this is an occupied country.  The fortunes of war will change again and the oppressor will be driven out.”

     So then let us suppose that these bestial and brutal men are driven out.  Then the rich man comes back from some far away retreat and says to his artists, architects and sculptors, “Let’s get to work and clean this up.”

     After a year or so of work, the palace stands once again, shining in the noonday sun— the epitome of all beauty.

     Once there was someone named God— God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.  He turned His mighty wisdom loose on the making of man.  He said, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26).  Then he made a garden eastward in Eden and He put man in it.

     Then Satan came into the garden and the fortunes of moral war changed.  Satan took over and man sinned, betraying the God who made him.  That which used to be the most beautiful of all gardens and most lovely of all worlds, was turned into a pigpen and plunged into darkness.

     And so the critic walks about as the passersby did by the palace, and he says, “Are you telling me that a wise God made this pigpen?”

     But I say, “God in His great wisdom and in His providential dealings with this world has allowed a foreign power to occupy it for a time.  And this epitome of all beauty, our earth, is now under a cloud, a shadow.”  Romans 8:19–22 says:  

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

     God’s wise plans will be carried out, but God in His wisdom has allowed, for a little time, this foreign occupation.  The world we live in, with its cyclones, tornadoes, tempests, tidal waves and other forces of destruction, is under occupation.

     But do you think that God Almighty has surrendered and gone away forever?  No, he has not, and one of these days the great God Almighty is going to send His Son “from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God: and the dead in Christ will rise first; and then we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the clouds.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Encourage one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16–18).  

     We will be changed, raised, glorified and made into the image of God.  He’s going to clean house down here and there shall be peace.  Then we will see that God was wise.  But we’re going to have to be patient and go along with God for a little while, because we’re under occupation.

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Proverbs 3:19  —  By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.

Jeremiah 10:12  —  God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.

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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Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

–Revelation 22:20

1240) Mourning the Loss of Faith in His Homeland

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Two ‘prose poems’ by Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008), from Stories and Prose Poems, translated by Michael Glenny, 1970, pages 214-216.

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A JOURNEY ALONG THE OKA

     Traveling along the country roads in central Russia, you begin to understand why the Russian countryside has such a soothing effect.  

     It is because of its churches.  They rise over ridge and hillside, descending towards wide rivers like red and white princesses, towering above the thatch and wooden huts of everyday life with their slender, ornate steeples.  From far away they greet each other; from distant, unseen villages they rise towards the same sky.

     Wherever you may wander, over field or pasture, many miles from any homestead, you are never alone:  above the wall of tress, above the hayricks, even above the very curve of the earth itself, the doom of a belfry is always beckoning to you, from Borki Lovestkie, Lyubichi, or Gavrilovskoe.

     But as soon as you enter a village you realize that the churches which welcomed you from afar are no longer living.  Their crosses have long since been bent or broken off; the dome with its peeling paint reveals its rusty ribcage; weeds grow on the roofs and in the cracks of the walls; the cemetery is hardly ever cared for, its crosses knocked over and its graves ransacked; the paintings behind the altar have faded from a decade of rain and are scrawled with obscene graffiti.

     In the narthex there are barrels of salt, and a tractor is swinging round towards them; or a lorry is backing up to the vestry door to collect some sacks.  In one church, machine tools are humming away; another stands silent, simply locked up.  Others have been turned into clubs where propaganda meetings are held (“We will Achieve High Yields of Milk”) or films shown: Poem about the Sea, The Great Adventure.

     People have always been selfish and often evil.  But the church bell used to toll, and its echo would float over village, field, and wood.  It reminded man that he must abandon his trivial earthly cares and give up one hour of his thoughts to life eternal.  The tolling of the even-tide bell raised man above the level of a beast.

     Our ancestors put their best into these stones and these steeples– all their knowledge and all their faith.

     “Come on, Vitka, buck up and stop feeling sorry for yourself!  The film starts at six and the dance is at eight…”

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AT THE START OF THE DAY

     At sunrise thirty young people ran out into the clearing; they fanned out, their faces turned toward the sun, and began to bend down, to drop to their knees, to bow, to lie flat on their faces, to stretch out their arms, to lift up their hands, and then to drop back on their knees again.  All this lasted for a quarter of an hour.

     From a distance you might have thought they were praying.

     In this age, no one is surprised if people cherish their bodies patiently and attentively every day of their lives.

     But they would be jeered at if they paid the same regard to their souls.

     No, these people are not praying.  They are doing their morning exercises.

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Deuteronomy 8:10-11  —  When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God.

Jeremiah 13:24-25  —  “I will scatter you like chaff driven by the desert wind.  This is your lot, the portion I have decreed for you,” declares the Lord“because you have forgotten me and trusted in false gods.”

Jeremiah 3:21  —  A cry is heard on the barren heights, the weeping and pleading of the people of Israel, because they have perverted their ways and have forgotten the Lord their God.

I Timothy 4:7b-8  —  Train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

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PSALM 103:1-2:

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits.

1239) Getting to Know God (b)

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     (…continued)   I entered college with a fragile faith.  I had already read some things that challenged my meager knowledge of God.  I wasn’t sure my faith would survive, nor was I even very concerned that it did.  At that time, I probably would have reacted positively to the sign on that bus.  ‘No god, no worries, have fun,’ would have sounded good to me.

     I was at a Lutheran college and was required to take a couple religion classes.  One of these classes included the reading of two books by Paul Little.  The titles of the books were Know What You Believe and Know Why You Believe.  After I read those books I knew something about God.  I then had the knowledge that could handle some of the challenges and questions I was facing.  My faith was then no longer blown away by a few simple objections, no more than my friendship with Charlie was destroyed by a single thoughtless remark.  I was getting to know God, and faith was beginning to grow.

     We all need to find ways to get to know God, with our hearts and with our minds—both are in Psalm 36:10: “Continue your love, O Lord, to those who know you, (head knowledge), and your righteousness to the upright in heart.”

     Sunday worship is an essential part of one’s spiritual life, but it doesn’t give you enough of an opportunity to really get to know God.  The Sunday service is a time for everyone of all ages and types to gather.  But with everyone there at once, the content of the service has to be quite general in an attempt to speak to all.

     But when you spend your own personal time with God, you can find something that speaks more specifically to you and your situation, and you can pray in your own words.  You may already be already reading your Bibles and having daily devotions and prayer, but if you aren’t, I encourage you to find ways each day to get to know God better.

     One way is to simply continue reading these daily meditations.  This is a tool that can help you have a brief conversation with God each day.  There is always a reading to give you some insights into the life of faith; along with both sides of the conversation with God.  There are always two or three Bible verses for you to hear from God; and then, the words for a prayer you can say to God.  And you can add to that prayer concerns or requests of your own.

     A young man said to me, “How can you believe in a book like the Bible which is supposed to be God’s Word but has so many contradictions in it?”  I said, “That is a very good question.  We have some time to talk, so let me try to deal with those contradictions one at a time.  Tell me the biggest one first.  Of all the many Biblical contradictions, tell me which one is most troubling for you.”  Pete got this puzzled look on his face, was silent for a while, and finally said, “Well… I can’t think of any right now.”  I said, “Pete, do you mean to tell me you are carelessly disregarding gift the eternal life offered you in Jesus Christ because of all the contradictions in the Bible and you can’t even name one?  Who told you there were contradictions?  Did you ask them any questions, did you ask them to point out all the contradictions, or did you just blindly and dumbly agree?  Folks a lot smarter than you, Pete, have believed in that Bible, so it is pretty foolish for you to abandon it for no other reason than that.”

     Many people, like Pete, give up on God without knowing Him very well at all.  Make sure you know God and that you know something about God so you don’t end up like Pete, throwing away your best hope for no good reason.  We all have different priorities, of course, but one area that should be a priority for everyone, all the time, is getting to know God in whatever way works for you.  Find the ways you can get to know God better.

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I do not get to know God and then do His will.  I get to know Him by doing His will.  –Philip Yancey

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Matthew 22:29  —  Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

Mark 12:30  —  (Jesus said), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Ephesians 1:17  —  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

John 17:3  —  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

II Peter 1:2  —  Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

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

–St. Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)