1329) Forgiveness is Costly

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From The Daily Study Bible by William Barclay:

     Here is the eternal principle:  Forgiveness is a costly thing.  Human forgiveness is costly.  A son or a daughter may go wrong; a father or a mother may forgive; but that forgiveness has brought tears; it has brought whiteness to the hair, lines to the faces, a cutting anguish, and then a long dull ache to the heart.  It did not cost nothing.  There was the price of a broken heart to pay.

     Divine forgiveness is costly.  God is love, but God is holiness.  God, least of all, can break the great moral laws on which the universe is built.  Sin must have its punishment or the very structure of life disintegrates.  And God alone can pay the terrible price that is necessary before men can be forgiven.  Forgiveness is never a matter of saying:  “It’s all right; it doesn’t matter.”  Forgiveness is the most costly thing in the world.  Without the shedding of heart’s blood there can be no remission and forgiveness of sins.  There is nothing which brings the effect of his sin on someone with such arresting violence as to see the effect of his sin on someone who loves him in this world, or on the God who loves him forever, and to say to himself:  “It cost that to forgive my sin.”  Where there is forgiveness, someone must be crucified on a cross.

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“The essence of forgiveness is absorbing pain instead of giving it.”  

–Tim Keller

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“Forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.  To not retaliate is to absorb the cost.”

Tim Keller

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Hebrews 9:22b  —  Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Matthew 26:27-28  —  Then (Jesus) took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

I Peter 2:21b…23-24  —  Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps…  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

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

–Jesus

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1328) Love Lifted Me

This is the testimony of a Chinese Christian (quoted by Rick Warren in yesterday’s Daily Hope Blog):

     “I walked through the road of life and had fallen into a great ditch.  The ditch was filled with depression, discouragement, and sin.  As I lay in that ditch, Mohammed came along and said, ‘It’s your fault you’re in the ditch.  You offended Allah, and this is your just punishment.’  Then Marx came by and said, ‘You’re in the ditch because of class warfare.  You must revolt.’  But after the government changed, I was still in my ditch.  Then Buddha came along and said, ‘You’re not really in that ditch.  You just think you’re there.  It’s all an illusion of the mind.  Be at peace.’  Then Confucius came by and said, ‘Here are the 10 steps of self-attainment by which you can get out of your ditch.  If you will struggle, you will climb out eventually.’  But as much as I struggled and strained, I couldn’t get out of the ditch, because it was too deep.

     “Then one day, Jesus Christ came by and saw me in my ditch.  Without a word, he took off his white robe and got down in the muddy ditch with me.  Then he lifted me up with his strong arms and got me out of the ditch.  Thank God that Jesus did for me what I could not do for myself.”

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     LOVE LIFTED ME by Howard Smith and James Rowe

I was sinking deep in sin,
Far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me.
Now safe am I.
Refrain:  Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me.
Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help
Love lifted me.
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Souls in danger look above
Jesus completely saves
He will lift you by his love
Out of the angry waves
But the master of the sea
Billows His will obey
He your savior wants to be
Be saved today.  Refrain.
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Sung by Merle Haggard at:
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Matthew 14:29-31a  —  Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.

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Romans 7:24-25a  —  Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (NLT)

Psalm 40:1-2  —  I waited patiently for the Lordhe turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.

Acts 16:31a  —  Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–The ancient Jesus prayer

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God gives to man the trees of the forest and the iron in the ground.  He gives man the brains to make an ax and nails from the iron, and the energy to cut down the tree, the skill to fashion the wood into beams.  God gives man the cleverness to make a handle from the wood, and head from the iron, and combine it into an effective hammer.  Then man takes the beams, the nails, and the hammer and he nails God to the cross — where God willingly stretched out His arms, dying on the cross to take the guilt and penalty man’s sin deserved, to make a new, restored relationship between God and man possible.

–David Guzik, pastor at Calvary Chapel, Santa Barbara, California

1327) Santa’s First Job

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         Do you know what Santa Claus did before he moved to the North Pole, hired all those elves, and started making toys to deliver to all the little children of the world on Christmas Eve?  He was a minister.  That’s true!  Here’s the story.

          Once upon a time, around about 280 A.D., on the other side of the world, there was a little boy named Nick.  Nick’s father was a wealthy businessman, so Nick grew up having everything he needed and more.  Nick’s father often had to travel for his business, and sometimes Nick would go along.  As they rode their horses through the countryside and villages, there would often be beggars along the road, sitting there with their hands held high to the passing travelers.  Nick’s father was a generous man and would always give each one a few coins.

          Nick asked his father why he did that, because he could see there was nothing given in return.  His father explained, “These people are lame or blind or old.  They cannot work and have no money, and in this way we can help them.  After all, our Lord taught us to share, and to give to others as He has given to us.”

          When Nick grew up, he went away to school to be a pastor.  When he completed his studies, he was called to serve a church in the city of Myra, in what is now the nation of Turkey.  There he did all the things that pastors do: preaching, leading worship, teaching God’s Word, and visiting the sick and the dying.  And one of the things he told the people was that our Lord has taught us to give to others as he has given to us.

          Then Pastor Nicholas’s parents died and he, an only child, inherited all their great wealth.  But Nicholas’s life did not change.  He remained a pastor in Myra.

          Some time after Nicholas received his inheritance, a family in his church came on hard times.  The father was injured and was unable to work for many months.  Soon they were out of food and hungry, and they were being forced to beg on the streets.  Pastor Nicholas was saddened by this, so he went to the market and bought a large sack of food.  Then, in the middle of the night, he went to this house, laid the sack on the front steps, knocked on the door loudly, and ran away.

          Another time, Pastor Nicholas heard about a family with three daughters of marriageable age, but the father was poor, and could not come up with the dowry payment for any of them– and in those days, no dowry meant no marriage.  One of the sisters decided she would sell herself as a slave (or something worse), and in that way, she could make enough money to provide for the other two.  When Pastor Nicholas heard this news he was horrified, and he knew he could not allow such a thing to happen in his congregation.  So late one night he filled three sacks with money, enough in each one for the dowry.  He quietly approached the house and tossed the bags through an open window.  Again, he dashed away, off into the night, and the family was overjoyed with the mysterious gift.

          It truly is more blessed to give than to receive, so Pastor Nick really got into the spirit of this night-time gift giving.  There were stories that he filled socks with tools that men and women needed for their work, and that he bought shoes for children and filled them with sweets; all left by the door to be found in the morning.  There were more stories of money being thrown through open windows, or even down chimneys, though always in secret.  Before long, these acts of kindness were being talked about throughout the city, and everyone wondered about the identity of this wonderful person.

          One night the secret was discovered.  Just as Nick was about to set a sack on someone’s step, the door opened.  The man inside was astonished to see his pastor.  Pastor Nick pleaded with him to not tell anyone, but the news was too good to keep quiet.  By noon the next day everyone in town knew.  People gathered at the pastor’s house, cheering and calling for him to come out.  He came out and simply said: “Our Lord has taught us to give to others as he has given to us.”

          Years went by and Pastor Nicholas became Bishop Nicholas.  The secret gift giving continued, but now, no one could be sure anymore who was doing the giving.  Other people in Myra had been inspired to do the same thing, giving gifts in secret to those in need. 

          Such generosity continued, even long after Bishop Nicholas died.  Even then, when people did not know who to thank, they would often simply say, “Well, I suppose it was old St. Nick.”  SAINT Nick, because by that time the Catholic Church had declared him as one of the saints of the church: St. Nicholas.

          Merchants, sailors, and travelers to Myra from other parts of the world were amazed and curious about this generous gift giving among the people of the city.  They were told the story of St. Nick, and then went back and told it in their own homes and villages.  Thus, the stories spread to many lands, and in each place, new ideas and new traditions and new ways of saying the name developed.  Saint Nick also became known as Mikulaas, Kris Kringle, Papa Noel, Old Man Christmas, Father Christmas, Sinterklass, and in America, Santa Claus.

          But it all goes back to St. Nicholas, who before that, was Pastor Nicholas, a good man who gave gifts to those who were in need without expecting anything in return.

          This story of St. Nicholas is a combination of fact and legend, and it is difficult to determine which is which.  Many legends were built up around this man, and some of my story is no doubt legendary.  But there certainly was a Nicholas in the first half of the fourth century, and he certainly must have done some wonderful things to give rise to the legends.  I checked five sources as I prepared this story, and each source came to different conclusions about what parts of the story actually happened. I include more details than some accounts, and less than others.  I cannot verify each detail and conversation, but the basic core of the story seems to be accepted by most as historically accurate.  All agree that our Santa Claus traditions go back to the historical figure of St. Nicholas.  The Church has designated December 6th as the day to commemorate ‘Nicholas, Bishop of Myra’– and that’s jolly old St. Nick himself!

          St. Nicholas certainly is a good example of gratefully responding to all that God has given us.  James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift is from God.  Acts 20:35 says, “The Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  And at Christmas we celebrate God’s most perfect gift, as described in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

          All that we have is from God.  In grateful response we share with others.  Our Christmas gift giving reflects something of this, but we have certainly lost something of it when we have to spend time and energy trying to think of what to give people who need nothing.

          In the spirit of the original St. Nick, be generous this Christmas season.  Give to one of the many charities that help those in need.  One of my favorites is the Salvation Army.  When you walk by those Salvation Army bell ringers with their red buckets, don’t put in twenty cents, put in twenty dollars.  Most of you won’t miss it, and you can be sure they will put it to good use.  It is a great organization whose mission is to give those in need, and to do so in the name of Jesus.

          Whatever the form of your gift giving, follow the example of Nicholas, for whom such generosity was a way to remember, to honor, and to bear witness to the Lord Jesus.

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Deuteronomy 16:17  —  All shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

Acts 20:35  —  (Paul said), “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said:  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Ephesians 2:8-9  —    “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD. 

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O Lord Jesus Christ, who though you were rich became poor, grant that all our desire for and covetousness of earthly possessions may die in us, and that the desire for heavenly things may live and grow in us.  Keep us from all vain expenses so that we may always have enough to give to those who are in need, and that we may not give grudgingly, but cheerfully.  Amen.

Treasury of Devotion, 1869

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Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra  (270-343)

(notice the three bags he is holding, symbolic of the three bags of money for the three sisters’ dowry)

1326) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb14)

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

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MORNING PRAYER  (Twenty-seventh day):

Grant, O most gracious God, that I may carry through this day the remembrance of the sufferings of Jesus Christ my Lord:

For the love that filled his heart;

For his readiness to suffer for my sake;

For the power of his cross and the promise of the resurrection;

I praise and bless your holy name.

For the light of his life in the history of the world;

For all who have taken up their cross and followed him;

For the noble army of martyrs, and for all who are willing to die to this life so that others may live eternally;

For all suffering freely chosen for noble ends, for pain bravely endured, and for temporary sorrows that have been used for the building up of eternal joys;

I praise and bless  your holy name.

O Lord my God, you dwell in pure serenity beyond the reach of mortal pain, yet you look down in love and tenderness upon the sorrows of this earth.  Give me grace, I pray, to understand the meanings of the afflictions and disappointments that I am called upon to endure, and grant me the wisdom to learn from them what you have to teach me.  

Deliver me from all fretfulness.  

Give me a stout heart to bear my burdens.   Give me a willing heart to bear the burdens of others.  Give me a believing heart to cast all my burdens upon you.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER (Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth day)

O Perfect Light, how can I fold these guilty hands before you?  How can I pray to you with lips that have spoken false and rude words?  

I confess to you, O Lord;

A heart hardened with vindictive feelings;

An unruly tongue;

A fretful disposition;

An unwillingness to bear the burdens of others;

An undue willingness to let others bear my burdens;

High professions but low attainments;

Fine words hiding shabby thoughts;

A friendly face masking a cold heart;

Many neglected opportunities and many uncultivated talents;

Much love and beauty unappreciated and many blessings unacknowledged.

Forgive me, Lord.

I give you thanks that in the Gospel of Jesus Christ you have given me grace, for I have no other reason to plead for mercy.  Let me now find peace of heart by fleeing from myself and taking refuge in Jesus.  Let my despair over my miserable sins give way to the joy found in your goodness.  So let me lie down tonight thinking not of my own self and my own affairs, or of my own hopes and fears, or even of my own sins in your sight; but only of how I might serve you.

Show your lovingkindness tonight, O Lord, to all who stand in need of your help.  Be with the weak to make them strong and with the strong to make them gentle.  Cheer the lonely with your company and the distracted with your solitude.  Prosper your Church in the fulfillment of her mighty task, and grant your blessing to all who have toiled this day in Christ’s name.  Amen.

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II Corinthians 5:18a…19a…20b  —  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ…  God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them...  We implore you on Christ’s behalf:  Be reconciled to God.

I Peter 5:6-7  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Luke 9:23  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

1325) A Little Light in the Darkness

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The ‘Backyard Bible Club’

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By Joshua Rogers, November 15, 2016 blog at:  www.joshuarogers.com

     My old friend Dawn emailed me with unbelievable news last week:  She accidentally found Amanda.  The last time either of us saw her was 17 years ago.

     The summer of 1999, our church hosted Backyard Bible Clubs in neighborhoods throughout Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Dawn and I were assigned to a trailer park where we met several kids with little to do during summer break, and that’s where we met nine-year-old Amanda, her siblings, and her friends.

     The kids showed up every morning, ready for another day at the castle.  They sang along with the songs, listened intently to the lessons, and addressed the members of the “royal court” as if we were kings and queens.

     Little did we suspect that Amanda and her siblings were living through hell.

     Seventeen years after the summer of Son Castle, I saw Dawn on Facebook occasionally, but I had almost forgotten about our Backyard Bible Club days.  Then I got her email last week.

     Dawn, now a registered nurse, told me that earlier that day, she hosted a party at her home and one of the nurses from her workplace came.  During a conversation, the nurse asked Dawn if she had ever helped with a Bible Club at a trailer park in the Glendale community.

     “I sure did,” said Dawn.

     “Oh wow,” said the nurse, “I was at that Bible Club.”

     It was Amanda.

     Amanda told Dawn that she attended Bible Club with her brothers and sisters, and for some reason, her most vivid memory was of Dawn in a purple outfit.  She had never forgotten her face.

     “I had a terrible childhood,” Amanda told Dawn, “and Backyard Bible Club is one of my few happy memories of it.  It was my first encounter with God.”

     To Amanda’s surprise, Dawn found several photos of the Backyard Bible Club and brought them out.  Amanda’s eyes filled with tears as she looked through the photos.  As she and Dawn were talking, Dawn sensed God prompting her to share about her own horrific upbringing.  So at the risk of creating a potentially awkward conversation, she went out on a limb and revealed that as a child, she had been sexually abused for 11 years.

     Amanda says, “When the words ‘sexually abused’ left Dawn’s lips, I felt a sense of purpose wash over me.  Meeting her was what God wanted; it was what I needed.  I needed Dawn.”  And that’s when Amanda revealed her own painful story.  Around the time when we met her, her step-father was forcing her to share a bed with him.  She went through years of sexual abuse as well, and yet there was a light in her dark memories:  a 19-year-old in a homemade princess outfit.

     Dawn and Amanda, who are both faithful Christians today, sense that they were brought together to give other survivors hope.  They’re thinking through what that will look like, but whatever it is wouldn’t have been possible without a few simple things like a Backyard Bible Club, makeshift costumes, and young adults who were willing to play dress-up for a week to bless some kids in a trailer park.

     If you’re a believer, there’s a good chance that you too are doing some small things to love the people around you.  You’re teaching Sunday School, visiting a relative in the nursing facility, intently listening to your kids, donating money to charity, encouraging a coworker — whatever it is, God knows and He can use it.

     Be encouraged.  When we push over the dominoes of God’s love — even one — the result is unpredictable.  Through His unfailing love, all kinds of people will reap the benefits of your selfless gifts, no matter how big or small.  And while these gifts may not seem like much, God is big enough to take them and turn them into miracles.

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Matthew 5:14a…16b  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world…  Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Mark 9:37  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Matthew 19:14  —  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

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THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE  (two verses from one of many versions)

Lyrics by Avis Christiansen, tune by Harry Dixon Loes, c. 1920.

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Hallelujah
This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

Out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Hallelujah
Out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

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This Little Light of Mine on Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCN893hzueQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yUK0S_cEXY

 

1324) “Church Doesn’t Care About Me”

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SUNDAY MORNING, Norman Rockwell, May 16, 1959 cover of The Saturday Evening Post

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A SURVEY:

A 2008 survey by LifeWay Research found that 72% of American adults who do not attend church say the church is full of hypocrites.  The same study found that 79% of those unchurched Americans think the church is more concerned about organized religion than about loving God and loving people.

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A STORY:

     My mother took us to church and Sunday school; my father didn’t go.  He complained about Sunday dinner being late when she came home.  Sometimes the preacher would call, and my father would say, “I know what the church wants.  Church doesn’t care about me.  Church wants another name, another pledge, another name, and another pledge.  Right?  Isn’t that the name of the game?  Another name, another pledge.”  That’s what he always said.

     Sometimes we’d have a revival.  The pastor would bring the evangelist to our home to visit my father.  The pastor would say to the evangelist, “There’s one now, sic him... get him, get him;” and my father would say the same thing to him.  Every time, my mother would be in the kitchen, always nervous, in fear of flaring tempers, of somebody being hurt.  And always my father said, “The church doesn’t care about me. The church wants another name and another pledge.”  I guess I heard it a thousand times.

     One time he didn’t say it.  He was in the veteran’s hospital, and he was down to 73 pounds.  They had taken out his throat, and he said, “It’s too late.”  They put in a metal tube, and X-rays burned him to pieces.  I flew in to see him.  He couldn’t speak and couldn’t eat.  

     I looked around the room.  There were potted plants and cut flowers on all the windowsills, a stack of cards twenty inches deep beside his bed.  And even that tray where they put food, if you can eat, on that was a flower.  And all the flowers beside the bed, every card, every blossom, were from persons or groups from the church.

     He saw me read a card.  He could not speak, so he took a Kleenex box and wrote on the side of it a line from Shakespeare.  If he had not written this line, I would not tell you this story.  He wrote: “In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.”

     I said, “What is your story, Daddy?”

     And he wrote, “I was wrong.”

–Fred B. Craddock, in Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard E Ward, Chalice Press, 2001, p. 14.

It was too late for the church to be interested in that man’s name or pledge, but they were still interested in him; and so he was finally able to realize that they really did care.  

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I Peter 3:15-16  —  In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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

I Timothy 1:13  —  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.

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O Lord, give us mild, peaceable, meek, and humble spirits, so that, remembering our own sins, we may bear with the sins of others; that we may think lowly of ourselves, and thus not be angry when others also think lowly of us; that we may be patient towards all people, gentle and gracious; as God is so to us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Thomas Wilson (1663-1755), Anglican Bishop

1323) ‘Much Obliged, Dear Lord’

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“We should devote 364 days a year to being thankful and set aside only one day for grumbling and complaining.”

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     Fulton Ousler (1893-1952) was a journalist, author of many novels (including The Greatest Story Ever Told), and editor of the Reader’s Digest.  He wrote in one of his books about Anna, born into slavery in Maryland, who as an old woman worked as a maid in the Oursler home when Fulton was a boy.

     Oursler remembered mealtimes with Anna.  She’d always begin by folding her hard, old black hands and praying, “Much obliged, dear Lord, for my vittles.”

     “What’s vittles?” he once asked.

     “Vittles is whatever I have to eat,” Anna replied.

     “But Anna,” he pointed out, “you’d probably get your vittles whether you thanked the Lord or not.”

     “Sure,” she responded, “but it makes everything taste better to be thankful.”

     “You know,” she said, “an old preacher taught me to play a game about being thankful– and the game is to just always be looking for things to be thankful for.  You don’t know how many of them you pass right by unless you go looking for them.  Take this morning for instance.  I wake up and I lay there wondering what I got to be thankful for now.  With my husband dead and having to work every day, I couldn’t think of anything.  What must the good Lord think of me, His child?  But the honest truth is I just could not think of a single thing to thank Him for.  Then, my daughter opened the bedroom door, and the smell of coffee came from the kitchen.  Much obliged, dear Lord, I said, for the coffee and a daughter to have it ready for an old woman when she wakes up.

     “Now, for a while I have to do housework.  It’s hard to find anything to thank God for in housework.  But when I dust the mantelpiece, there is Little Boy Blue.  I’ve had that little china boy for many years.  I was a slave when I got it as my one Christmas present.  I love that little boy.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for Little Boy Blue.

     “Almost everything I dust reminds me of something– even the pictures that hang on our cracked, unpainted wall.  It’s like a visit with my family who are all gone.  They look at me, and I look at them, and there are so many happy things to remember.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for my memory.  Then, I go for a walk downtown to buy a loaf of bread and some cheese for dinner.  I look in all the windows, and see so many pretty things.”

     Ousler commented, “But Anna, you can’t buy them.  You have no money.”

     “Oh, but I can play (pretend).  I think of how your ma and sister would look in those dresses, and I have a lot of fun.  Much obliged, dear Lord, for playing in my mind.  It’s a kind of happiness.

     “Once I got caught in the rain,” she said, “and it was fun for me.  I’ve always heard about rich people who take showers instead of baths, but I never had one.  But that day I did.  You know, God is just giving Heaven away to people all day long.  I’ve been to the park and seen the gardens, but I like the old bush in my back yard better.  One rose will fill you with all the sweetness you can stand.”

     Oursler finished the story.  “Anna taught me a great deal about life.  I’ll never forget when word came to me that Anna was dying.  I remember taking a cab over to her place and standing by her bedside.  She was in deep pain and her hard old hands were knotted together in a desperate clutch.  Poor old woman, I thought.  What did she have to be thankful for now?  She opened her eyes and looked at me.  ‘Much obliged, dear Lord, for such a fine friend who comes to see me when I’m dying.’  She never spoke again, except in my heart, but there she speaks to me every day– and I’m much obliged, dear Lord, for that.”

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The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heaven of hell, or a hell of heaven.

–Milton, Paradise Lost

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Happiness is not created by what happens to us, but by our response to each happening.

–Water Heile

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Some people complain because God put thorns on roses, while others praise him for putting roses among thorns.

One can alter one’s life by altering one’s attitude.  Gratitude is the key.

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How small, of all that human hearts endure,

That part which laws of kings can cause or cure!

Still to ourselves in every place consigned,

Our own felicity we make or find.

–Samuel Johnson  (1709-1784)

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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.

Psalm 9:1  —  I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —   The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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“A single thankful thought toward heaven is the most perfect of all prayers.”

–Gotthold Lessing, German author  (1729-1781)

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

–Psalm 136:1

1322) Treasure in Soiled Hands

By ELCA pastor James D. Engh, in the November 1995 issue of The Lutheran, pages 20-21.

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     I face the altar on Sunday mornings before I turn to greet the congregation.  And I pray silently: “O Lord, our maker, redeemer and comforter, we are assembled in Thy presence to hear Thy holy word.  We pray Thee so to open our hearts by Thy Holy Spirit, that through the preaching of Thy word we may be taught to repent of our sins, to believe on Jesus in life and in death, and to grow day by day in grace and holiness.  Hear us, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.”

     I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that prayer.  This opening prayer from “The Order of Morning Service” in the 1913 Lutheran Hymnary still ushers me into God’s presence.  It reminds me that my roots run deep into the rich soil of a great religious heritage—faith, piety and a people, a particular people with names and faces.  These people rooted me in the gospel.

     Our small wood church sat on a windswept hill on the prairies of northeast South Dakota.  Meant to be white, wind and sand, and extremes of heat and cold had long since weathered it gray.  The steeple pointed to a rooster, a weather vane, and beyond to the heavens.  Deeply grooved wooden steps testified to the tens of thousands of feet that continued to return here.

     I recall a Sunday in June. The doors stood open as flies buzzed in and out.  Arriving worshipers could hear the strains of Holy, Holy, Holy drifting out the doors.  I know that’s what the organist played—she always played it before services, Sunday after Sunday.

     People filed in, found their pews and nodded silently to those whose eyes they met.  These shy farmers had a tremendous capacity for silence.  But what went through their minds?

     Some were laying out plans for Monday’s work.  Others likely remembered with regret something done or said since they last sat in this place.  Some prayed for rain and a good crop this year, if it be God’s will.

     Above all, they prayed for the children.  They were all there, from one in her mother’s arms to one who was leaving home to her seek her fortune in Minneapolis.  “Yes, protect them from the evil one, Lord; keep them from harm and danger.  Have we done enough for them?  Will they remember their Bible stories, their catechism, their God?”  Their parents’ prayers spoke a love deeper and stronger than they were comfortable expressing.

     While they prayed, others studied the picture above the altar;  Jesus, in a boat with his disciples, calming the storm.  That picture interpreted their lives.

     These farmers had a deep reverence for this church.  It wasn’t much to revere, I suppose.  It groaned in the wind, the ceiling was stained from leaks and it needed new windows and a coat of paint.  But it was a place like no other in their lives.  It was where God’s people gathered to worship.  It had been made holy through the years by baptisms, confirmations and weddings.  People had their sins forgiven here; they’d heard the gospel and received the sacrament here.

     For an hour each week something extraordinary happened—people met God.   And I was a part of it.  As a result, I was rooted in the gospel, bit by bit, week after week.

     I loved that place.  I loved those people, though it took me a long time to recognize who they really were.  To me they looked shy, awkward, uneducated.  They were farmers on the verge of being driven into poverty by the next drought, storm, or drop in prices.  Faces leathered by the sun, some dressed in patched, soiled clothing.  Dirt and grease had stained their callused hands beyond cleaning.

     A few of them drank too much.  Some were nigh unto impossible to live with.  Others were not exactly willing to resist temptation.  Some could hardly talk without using foul language, and all were plagued by doubts and unspoken fears.

     Not a very “spiritual” looking crowd, some might say.  And they’d be right.  They could be petty, judgmental, unkind, unforgiving, and they could hold grudges with the best.

     And they knew it.  They hung their heads and marveled that God could love such as them.  But they were God’s gift to me.

     Such as they were, God still chose them to bear a treasure.  They were the first to speak God’s “I love you” to me.  Awkwardly stumbling over words, they somehow managed to speak powerfully of Jesus.  The Spirit breathed through their words and my experiences with them.

     I have vivid memories of these folks– who had known much more tragedy than I– kneeling under the picture of Jesus calming the storm.  That image has pulled me through my faith-testing times.

     I remember the old woman our pastor helped to an open casket below that picture.  Placing her hand on the cold, lifeless face of her husband of 58 years, she traced the sign of the cross with her bony, arthritic fingers.  In that moment, I knew I was in the presence of one of God’s special ones.

     I especially remember sitting next to my friend Roger, trying to help him memorize his Bible passage for the Christmas pageant, puzzled why this bright boy couldn’t memorize a few lines from Isaiah.  Later, I watched as the teacher led him back to his seat when, during the program, he couldn’t say anything intelligible.  Bewildered and frightened he sat beside me.  I cried for him then, and I cried for him a few weeks later at his grave.  It was a brain tumor, I think.

     I remembered his lines and even then understood something of what they meant: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).  I learned something on that sad, wintry day about Christian faith and hope as I watched Roger’s parents’ eyes move from the casket to the pastor as he repeated a promise: “In the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

     This is the stuff on which I was nourished.  It’s available only to those who live among God’s believing, worshiping community.

     The church building no longer stands on that nameless hill in northeast South Dakota.  Most of those voices that once were raised in praise to God are now stilled.  Many lie in the cemetery behind the place where the church building once stood.

     It’s lonely there now, yet the strains of Holy, Holy, Holy cover this place like a blanket and are almost audible.  I can wander among the graves, read the names on the headstones, recall their faces and remember their stories—stories of failure and tragedy, of hope and shattered dreams, of sin and doubt, stories of faith that still nourish me.

     Bowing before the altar on Sundays to pray, I often wonder where I would be if it were not for those South Dakota farmers.  It’s unlikely I would be before this altar, praying the prayer they taught me.  I may not have been rooted in the gospel at all.  The treasure intended for me may not have been delivered.  God’s “I love you” may never have been whispered in my ear.

     And bowing before the altar, I sometimes think—often with fear—of the next generation.  Of all the voices competing for their attention, will they, by some miracle, hear our voice speaking to them of Jesus?

     I hope they will remember us kindly and not judge us too harshly.  I hope someday they will thank God for the priceless treasure they received from undeserving people.

Image result for lutheran congregation 1950 images

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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.

Psalm 78:1-7  —  My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth…  I will utter things from of old— things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us…  We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lordhis power, and the wonders he has done…  He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds, but would keep his commands.

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A PRAYER AS WORSHIP BEGINS:

O Lord, our maker, redeemer and comforter, we are assembled in Thy presence to hear Thy holy word.  We pray Thee so to open our hearts by Thy Holy Spirit, that through the preaching of Thy word we may be taught to repent of our sins, to believe on Jesus in life and in death, and to grow day by day in grace and holiness.  Hear us, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.

-Lutheran Hymnary, 1913

1321) Reality Check, Right Between the Eyes

Image result for wieners and sauerkraut images

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By Robert Fulghum (1937- ), from his 1991 book “UH-OH!”  Fulghum was also the author of the best-selling All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten (1989).

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     It was the summer of 1959.  At a resort inn in the Sierra Nevada of Northern California, I had a job that combined being the night desk clerk in the lodge and helping with the horse-wrangling at the stables.  The owner-manager was Swiss, with European notions about conditions of employment.  He and I did not get along.  I thought he was a fascist who wanted peasant employees to know their place.  I was 22, just out of college, and pretty free with my opinions.

     One week the employees were served the same thing for lunch every single day.  Two wieners, and mound of sauerkraut and stale rolls.  To compound insult injury, the cost of the meals was deducted from our paychecks.  I was outraged.

     On Friday night of that awful week, I was at my desk job around 11:00 p.m., and the night auditor had just come on duty.  I went into the kitchen and saw a note to the chef to the effect that wieners and sauerkraut were on the employees menu for two more days.

     That did it.  For lack of any better audience, I unloaded on the night auditor, Sigmund Wollman.

     I declared that I had had it up to here, that I was going to get a plate of wieners and sauerkraut and wake up the owner and throw it at him.  Nobody was going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it, and this was un-American, and I didn’t like wieners and sauerkraut enough to eat them even one day for Pete’s sake, and the whole hotel stunk, and I was packing my bags and heading for Montana where they never even heard of wieners and sauerkraut and wouldn’t feed that stuff to pigs.  Something like that.

     I raved on this way for 20 minutes.  My monologue was delivered at the top of my lungs, punctuated by blows on the front desk with a fly swatter, the kicking of chairs, and much profanity.

     As I pitched my fit, Sigmund Wollman sat quietly on his stool, watching me with sorrowful eyes.  Put a bloodhound in a suit and tie and you have Sigmund Wollman.

     He had good reason to look sorrowful.  He was a German Jew, a survivor of three years in Auschwitz.  He was thin and coughed a lot.  He liked being alone at the night job.  It gave him intellectual space, peace and quiet, and, even more, he could go into the kitchen and have a snack whenever he wanted—all the wieners and sauerkraut he wished.  To him, it was a feast.  More than that, there was nobody around to tell him what to do.  In Auschwitz he had dreamed of such a time.

     The only person he saw at work was me, the nightly disturber of his dreams.  Our shifts overlapped an hour.  And here I was, a one-man war party at full cry.

     “Lissen, Fulchum.  Lissen me, lissen me.  You know what’s wrong with you?  It’s not the wieners and kraut and it’s not the boss and it’s not the chef and it’s not this job.”

     “So what’s wrong with me?” I asked.

     “Fulchum, you think you know everything, but you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem.  If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire—then you got a problem.  Everything else is inconvenience.  Life is inconvenient.  Life is lumpy.  Learn to separate the inconveniences from the real problems.  You will live longer.  And you will not annoy people like me so much.  Good night.”

     In a gesture combining dismissal and blessing, he waved me off to bed.

     Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes so hard with truth.  There in that late night darkness of a Sierra Nevada inn, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously kicked my butt and opened a window in my mind.

     For 30 years now, in times of stress and strain, when something has me backed against the wall and I’m ready to do something stupid with my anger, a sorrowful face appears in my mind and asks, “Fulchum, problem or inconvenience?”

     I think of this as the ‘Wollman Test of Reality.’  Life is lumpy.  And a lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat, and a lump in the breast are not the same lump.  One should learn the difference.

     Good night, Sig.

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“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

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Philippians 4:11b-12  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I Timothy 6:6-8  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:5b  —  Be content with what you have.

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

Colossians 3:15  —   Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

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Help me, Lord, to see what I need to see.

Help me to learn what I need to learn.

Grant me the grace to apply these lessons in my life.

Enable me, Lord, to manage my thoughts and emotions so that I may have the proper perspective and response to my challenges.

Though my burdens seem heavy, I pray that you direct all my steps toward you.  

In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.  

–Anonymous

1320) Squanto and the Pilgrims

By Chuck Colson, for:  http://www.breakpoint.org

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Bust of Squanto from Pilgrim Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA.

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      Most of us know the story of the first Thanksgiving; at least we know the Pilgrim version.  But how many of us know the Indian viewpoint?

     No, I’m not talking about some revisionist, politically correct version of history.  I’m talking about the amazing story of the way God used an Indian named Squanto (1585-1622) as a special instrument of His providence.

     Historical accounts of Squanto’s life vary, but historians believe that around 1608, more than a decade before the Pilgrims arrived, a group of English traders sailed to what is today Plymouth, Massachusetts.  When the trusting Wampanoag Indians came out to trade, the traders took them prisoner, transported them to Spain, and sold them into slavery.  It was an unimaginable horror.

     But God had an amazing plan for one of the captured Indians, a boy named Squanto.

     Squanto was bought by a well-meaning Spanish monk, who treated him well and taught him the Christian faith.  Squanto eventually made his way to England and worked in the stables of a man named John Slaney.  Slaney sympathized with Squanto’s desire to return home, and he promised to put the Indian on the first vessel bound for America.

     It wasn’t until 1619, ten years after Squanto was first kidnapped, that a ship was found. Finally, after a decade of exile and heartbreak, Squanto was on his way home.

     But when he arrived in Massachusetts, more heartbreak awaited him.  An epidemic had wiped out Squanto’s entire village.

     We can only imagine what must have gone through Squanto’s mind.  Why had God allowed him to return home, against all odds, only to find his loved ones dead?

     A year later, the answer came.  A shipload of English families arrived and settled on the very land once occupied by Squanto’s people.  Squanto went to meet them, greeting the startled Pilgrims in English.

     According to the diary of Pilgrim Governor William Bradford, Squanto “became a special instrument sent of God for [our] good . . . He showed [us] how to plant [our] corn, where to take fish and to procure other commodities . . . and was also [our] pilot to bring [us] to unknown places for [our] profit, and never left [us] till he died.”

    When Squanto lay dying of fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend “desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen’s God in heaven.”  Squanto bequeathed his possessions to the Pilgrims “as remembrances of his love.”

     Who but God could so miraculously convert a lonely Indian and then use him to save a struggling band of Englishmen?  It is reminiscent of the biblical story of Joseph, who was also sold into slavery, and whom God likewise used as a special instrument for good.

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Genesis 50:15-21  —  When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”  So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died:  ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph:  I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’  Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

      His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

     But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.”  And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

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An English Prayer of Thanks, 1625, by George Webb:

O Lord our God and heavenly Father, which of Thy unspeakable mercy towards us, hast provided meate and drinke for the nourishment of our weake bodies.  Grant us peace to use them reverently, as from Thy hands, with thankful hearts:  let Thy blessing rest upon these Thy good creatures, to our comfort and sustentation:  and grant we humbly beseech Thee, good Lord, that as we doe hunger and thirst for this food of our bodies, so our soules may earnestly long after the food of eternal life, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour,  Amen.