1319) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb13)

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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  (Second day):

O God, my Creator and Redeemer, I am not able to go forth today except that you accompany me with your blessing.  Let not the freshness of the morning, or the vigor of good health, or the prosperity of my undertakings, deceive me into a false reliance upon my own strength.  All these good gifts have come to me from you.  They were yours to give and they are yours also to take away.  They are not mine to keep; I do but hold them in trust; and only in continued dependence upon you, the Giver, can they be worthily enjoyed.

Let me then put back into your hand all that you have given me, rededicating to your service all the powers of my mind and body, all my worldly goods, and all my influence with others.  All these, O Lord, are yours to use as you will.  Speak your words through me today, guide my thoughts, and work in all my deeds.  It is your gracious will to make use even of such small and weak humans as myself, so let my life be the channel through which some little portion of your divine love and pity may reach the lives of those that are nearest to my own.

I remember before you, O God, my family and all my friends and neighbors, those with whom I work, and especially the poor in our midst, asking that you would give me the grace to serve them in your name.

O blessed Jesus, who used your own most precious life for the redemption of your human family, giving no thought to ease or pleasure or worldly enrichment, but filling all your hours and days with deeds of self-denying love; give me grace to follow you in such a life of service to others.  To your name be all glory and praise, now and forever.  Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Twenty-second and Twenty-seventh day):

Now, O Lord, when the day’s work is done, I turn once more to you.  From you all comes, in you all lives, and in you all ends.  In the morning I set out with your blessing, all day you upheld me with your grace, and now I pray that you would grant me rest and peace.  I cast all my cares on you, and leave to you the results of my labor.  Prosper, I pray, all that I have done this day according to your will, and forgive all that I have done wrong.  

Grant me, O Lord, a clearer vision of your truth, a greater faith in your power, and a more confident assurance of your love:

When the way seems dark before me, give me grace to walk trustingly;

When much is obscure to me, let me be all the more faithful to the little that I can clearly see;

When the distant scene is clouded, let me be glad that at least I can see the next step;

While there is much that is hidden from my eyes, let me still hold fast to those things you have clearly commanded;

When insight falters, let obedience stand firm;

And what I lack in faith, let me fulfill in love.

O infinite God, who is beyond all understanding, I thank you that you sent your Son Jesus Christ to be my light in a dark world.  And if I still cannot find you, then let me search my heart and be aware not only of your obscurity, but also of my willful blindness; and know that you have promised that you will never leave me, but that I often flee from you.  Let me confess my sins before your and seek your pardon in Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

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James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

Psalm 145:18  —  The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Psalm 145:14  —  The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

Deuteronomy 31:16  —  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

John 9:5b  —  (Jesus said), “I am the light of the world.”

1318) A Post-Election Prayer

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By Pastor Kevin DeYoung, senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA), East Lansing, Michigan; prayed in the November 13, 2016 worship service (adapted).

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Our good and gracious heavenly Father, we praise you for your almighty and ever present power, by which you create and sustain all things.

When we don’t know what will happen with our health, we trust you.  When we don’t know what we will happen with those we love, we rest in you.  And when we don’t know what will happen with our nation, we turn to you.

In the midst of a world filled with disagreements and disappointments and discouragement; in a world where we tend to assume the worst of those who are not like us, help the church show a more excellent way.  May the world look in at our counter-culture communities and say with astonishment, “See how they love one another.”  Give us the empathy to listen to one another and the wisdom to learn from what we hear.

May the church show forth the kind of diversity worth pursuing—the diversity of every nationality, and every race, and every class, and every color confessing sins together and together worshiping the risen Christ.

As we are commanded in I Timothy 2, we pray for Donald Trump, the next President of the United States.

Grant him wisdom, courage, and integrity, as a man and as a leader.  Keep him faithful, kind, and loving as a husband and father.

Give him a heart for the poor, concern for the powerless, and compassion for the weak.  May he resist the temptation to settle scores and tear others down.  Give him a heart, a disposition, and a commitment to honor women, protect the vulnerable, and reject all racial animosity.

Put before him the best information and the most intelligent counselors so he can make good decisions about economic and foreign policy, and guide him to choose capable men and women for a vast array of judicial, cabinet-level, and bureaucratic appointments.

May the President be guided by both courage and restraint as the Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces.  Make him a defender of the unborn and a champion for religious liberty.

Make him a man of prayer and a daily student of the Scriptures.  Give him the humility to see his sins, the honesty to admit his faults, the grace to forgive his enemies, and the strength of character to change his mind when necessary.

Lead him to a firmer understanding of the truth of the gospel, a resolute commitment to obey the Word of God, and a passion to promote what accords with your truth.

By your grace, heavenly Father, may President Trump be a better man than many expect; and may he also be a better man than we deserve, for we have forsaken you in so many ways.

And no matter the smiles or frowns of providence, keep your people faithful to the things we know we must do:  to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Make us quick to serve and eager to speak the truth in love.  Grant us the privilege to bear witness to the only King who keeps all his promises and the only One whose kingdom knows no end.

In the name of Christ— the only name given among men whereby we must be saved— we pray.  Amen.

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I Timothy 2:1-4  —  I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

II Chronicles 7:14  —  If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Psalm 22:27-28  —  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lordand all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.

1317) Ars Moriendi

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FROM A FUNERAL SERMON:

     When Ralph told me about his mother’s last few months, during which she knew she was dying, I thought of the Latin phrase “ars moriendi.”  The phrase means ‘the art of dying,’ and it comes from some books by that name written in the 1400’s.  These books offered Biblical advice on procedures for a ‘good death’ explaining how a Christian can die well, taking comfort in their faith in Jesus Christ and the hope of the life to come.  It is explained how believers can avoid despair and be at peace by being assured of the promise that Jesus has gone on ahead to prepare a place for them, and that upon one’s death, Jesus will return and receive the believer and bring them to their new home in heaven.  

     Hilda, after a lifetime of faith, knew those promises and did indeed find her comfort in them.  I am sure she did not read any of those books about the art of dying, but she did, just like the books describe, have a good death, and did indeed die well.  That is a comfort for us here today, and it bears witness to the power of the Christian faith when someone can face death with such hope and confidence.

    Last summer, many of us who are here today, gathered in our fellowship hall to say good-bye to Hilda, before she moved to be near her family in Montana.  She was still feeling pretty good, but just two weeks before that she received the diagnosis of the terminal cancer in her brain and that she would have only a few months to live.  Yet it was clear even in the brief conversation I had with her that she was at peace with that, and that inner peace came from her faith.  She was grateful for the good life God had given her, and she was now determined to be thankful for each and every remaining day that she would have.  And when those days would run out, she was ready to die and go on to the next place that Jesus had prepared for her.  

     That is a pretty good way to approach life no matter what age you are, and whether or not you have a brain tumor.  One might expect complaining and despair from someone in Hilda’s position, facing what she was to endure.  But instead of complaining and despair, she displayed courage and gratitude and faith.  And Hilda continued in that faith and with that peace until the end.  

     That is what you call in Latin, ‘ars moriendi,’ or in English, ‘the art of dying well.’

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     Back in Kansas, with her experience in the land of Oz behind her, Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home.”  How true!  But how easily we forget where our home really is. At death, the Christian doesn’t leave home. We go home: “We prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8).  Consider the paradox—our true home is a place we’ve never been!  (Had we been there we could hardly bear to live here.)

     Home is where our Father is (John 14:2).  Our true home is far superior, the spiritual family there is vast and rich.  The Great Reunion awaits us.  We long for it.

     When we understand what home really is, money and things lose their glitter.  We finally see them as they have been all along: cheap imitations of the true and vast wealth that is ours as children of God. 

     C. S. Lewis puts it well: “Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

–Randy Alcorn, at:  www.epm.org

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I found these words on a sympathy card; the writer’s name was not listed:

Death is God carrying us in one arm while His other arm flings aside heaven’s door;

To welcome us back to the blazing hearth of our eternal home;

While those inside, having arrived before us, rush to the door;

Like glad children, shouting “They’re here!  They’re here!”

Death has a bad name on earth;

But in heaven, it’s a homecoming party everytime the door opens.

And God does not forget those earthbound children, sad and left behind. 

God leaves the party early to enter into their despair,

And to get them ready for their own parties someday.

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II Corinthians 5:1  —  For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

II Corinthians 5:6-8  —  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  For we live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in Godbelieve also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed; and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1316) Vitamin ‘N’ Builds Strong Character

In today’s meditation, family psychologist John Rosemond describes why it is so important for children to hear the word “NO” on a regular basis as they are growing up.  Rosemond calls this ‘Vitamin N’ and discusses the many problems that can result from a deficiency of this much needed vitamin.  Anyone who has been around kids (or has been a kid) should know all of this already, but many in our society make every effort to deny this basic fact of human nature.  This, and many other great videos, can be found at: http://www.prageru.com .  You may watch the video here (or read the transcript below):

http://www.prageru.com/courses/life-studies/your-child-getting-enough-vitamin-n

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IS YOUR CHILD GETTING ENOUGH VITAMIN ‘N’?  

by John Rosemond

     I want to tell you about an essential vitamin you’ve probably never heard of.  If you’re a parent, or plan to be one, it might be more important to your child’s growth than all other vitamins combined.  And only you, a parent, can provide it.

     I call it Vitamin N.  The word “No.”

     More and more children, I find, are suffering from Vitamin N deficiency.  And they, their parents, and our entire culture are paying the price.

     Let me illustrate my point with a story that’s quite typical.  A father, I’ll call him Bill, gave his son, age five, pretty much everything the little boy asked for.  Like most parents, Bill wanted more than anything for his son to be happy.  But he wasn’t.  Instead he was petulant, moody, and often sullen.  He was also having problems getting along with other children.  In addition, he was very demanding and rarely if ever expressed any appreciation, let alone gratitude, for all the things Bill and his wife were giving him.  Was his son depressed, Bill wanted to know?  Did he need therapy?  His son, I told him, was suffering the predictable ill effects of being overindulged.  What he needed was a healthy and steady dose of Vitamin N.

     Over-indulgence–a deficiency of Vitamin N—leads to its own form of addiction.  When the point of diminishing returns is passed (and it’s passed fairly early on), the receiving of things begins to generate nothing but want for more things.  One terrible effect of this is that our children are becoming accustomed to a material standard that’s out of kilter with what they can ever hope to achieve as adults.  Consider also that many, if not most, children attain this level of affluence not by working, sacrificing, or doing their best, but by whining, demanding, and manipulating.  So in the process of inflating their material expectations, we also teach children that something can be had for next to nothing.  Not only is that a falsehood, it’s also one of the most dangerous, destructive attitudes a person can acquire.

     This may go a long way toward explaining why the mental health of children in the 1950s – when kids got a lot less — was significantly better than the mental health of today’s kids.  Since the ‘50s, and especially in the last few decades, as indulgence has become the parenting norm, the rates of child and teen depression have skyrocketed.  

     Children who grow up believing in the something-for-nothing fairy tale are likely to become emotionally stunted, self-centered adults.  Then, when they themselves become parents, they’re likely to overdose their children with material things – the piles of toys, plushies, and gadgets one finds scattered around most households.  In that way, over indulgence—a deficiency of Vitamin N—becomes an inherited disease, an addiction passed from one generation to the next.

     This also explains why children who get too much of what they want rarely take proper care of anything they have.  Why should they?  After all, experience tells them that more is always on the way.  

     Children deserve better.  They deserve to have parents attend to their needs for protection, affection, and direction.  Beyond that, they deserve to hear their parents say “no” far more often than yes when it comes to their whimsical desires.  They deserve to learn the value of constructive, creative effort as opposed to the value of effort expended whining, lying on the floor kicking and screaming, or playing one parent against the other.  They deserve to learn that work is the only truly fulfilling way of getting anything of value in life, and that the harder they work, the more ultimately fulfilling the outcome.

     In the process of trying to protect children from frustration, parents have turned reality upside down.  A child raised in this topsy-turvy fashion may not have the skills needed to stand on his or her own two feet when the time comes to do so.  

     Here’s a simple rule: Turn your children’s world right-side up by giving them all of what they truly need, but no more than 25 percent of what they simply want.  I call this the “Principle of Benign Deprivation.”  When all is said and done, the most character-building two-letter word in the English language is ‘no.’  Vitamin N.  

     Dispense it frequently.  You’ll be happier in the long run, and so will your child.

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‘Benign (kindly) deprivation’ means saying NO to many of our children’s desires, intentionally denying them much of what they want so they can learn to be mature and virtuous adults of strong character.  Jesus taught this as well, linking such denial of self to his call to follow him and be his disciple.  The path to spiritual growth lies in saying NO to many of our physical and material desires.  Three of the four Gospel writers record these important words of Jesus.

Matthew 16:24  —  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Mark 8:34  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

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

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Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and the shame of the cross for our salvation; give us courage to take up our cross and follow him.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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NOTE:  Many parents have also wanted to protect their children from the pain of losing; or, being told “NO, you did not win.”  When these children get out into the real world, they will find it very difficult to lose; as in this story just in from my most trusted ‘fake’ news source (for great Christian satire) at:  www.babylonbee.com

Police Calm Millennial Protesters By Handing Out Participation Trophies

U.S.—As anti-Trump rallies nationwide turned hostile overnight with widespread reports of violence, looting, vandalism, and death threats against the president-elect and his supporters, police in numerous major cities were able to instill calm and regain control by handing out participation trophies to all millennial protesters who were enraged about losing the election, sources confirmed.

The shrewd tactic was the idea of New York Police Officer Joe Butler, who has three twenty-something children himself, and noted to reporters Thursday that he remembered how his children “never had to deal with losing as they were growing up.”

“It’s a foreign notion to them.  Even in sports—win or lose, everyone won, and everyone got a trophy no matter what.  This is the millennial way,” he said.  “So I had the idea—hey, why not start handing out participation trophies to the protesters, and telling them ‘Hey, you know what?  You may have lost the election, but look—everyone gets a trophy.  Everyone’s a winner.’”

Seeing how the trophies had an instantaneous calming effect on the millennials and filled them with a sense of fulfillment and achievement, word spread quickly among police departments nationwide, and emergency trophies were procured by the thousands for use at the rallies.

At publishing time, police had regained control in cities across the country, and the crowds of now-content protesters were heading home with their trophies, according to sources.

1315) Memories

“REMEMBER THE BEST AND FORGET THE REST”

Adapted from Rick Warren’s November 13, 2016 devotional blog ‘Daily Hope’ at:  www.pastorrick.com

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     What do you remember about people — the good experiences or the bad experiences?  The apostle Paul’s attitude was to remember the good things about people, focus on the good times, and remember the positive experiences.

     Paul did not had an easy time in Philippi.  Acts 16 tells us that when he went to Philippi he was illegally arrested, whipped, humiliated, and thrown into prison before finally being asked to leave town.  Yet he wrote to those people there that did eventually respond to the Gospel, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).

     Paul could have dwelt on the negative.  He could have remembered the painful memories.  He chose not to remember the painful things; instead, he focused on the things he could be grateful for.

     Maybe you have been hurt in the past by a parent or a partner, and you’re still holding on to that hurt.  As a result, you can’t enjoy being around that person today.  You’re still focusing on the negative.

     Be grateful for the good in people.  Pleasant memories are a choice.  You can choose what you’re going to remember about the past.

     I’m not saying that you should deny the hurts you’ve had or excuse the weaknesses in other people.  That is psychologically unhealthy.  But focus on the good, and choose to emphasize the strengths.

     I hear wives say, “He’s a good man, but …”  Anytime you hear “but,” it means the emphasis is on the negative and not the positive.  Be grateful for what you’ve got!  Mr. Perfect does not exist.  I’ve heard the same thing from husbands, but Mrs. Perfect does not exist either.

     If you want to enjoy others, you’ve got to focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses.  With some people, it takes a lot of creativity.  But you can find something good in everybody.

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A man was telling his friend about the big argument he had with his wife the night before.  “She was historical,” he said.  “You must mean hysterical,” his friend responded.  “No, I mean historical,” the first man replied, adding, “She remembered and reminded me of every single thing I’ve done wrong in our entire married life.”

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The only hope for those who insist on focusing on the bad memories:

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Philippians 1:3  —  I thank my God every time I remember you.

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.

Proverbs 19:11  —  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

I Corinthians 13:4-6  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

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O Lord Jesus, because, being full of foolishness, we often sin and have to ask pardon, help us to forgive as we would be forgiven, neither mentioning old offenses committed against us, nor dwelling upon them in thought, nor being influenced by them in heart; but loving each other freely, as you freely love us; for your name’s sake.  Amen.

–Christina Rossetti, English poet  (1830-1894)

1314) Character Building

 Building character (from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson):

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     It is only in the heat of pain and suffering, both mental and physical, that real human character is forged.  One does not develop courage without facing danger, patience without trials, wisdom without heart-and brain-racking puzzles, endurance without suffering, or temperance and honesty without temptations.  These are the very things we treasure most about people.  Ask yourself if you would be willing to be devoid of all these virtues.  If your answer is no, then don’t scorn the means of obtaining them.  The gold of human character is dug from torturous mines, but its dung and dirt are quite easily come by.  And it should come as no surprise to us that in our time— the time of the great flight from pain— such virtues as these are conspicuous only by their absence.

     I’m not saying that we should go looking for pain, so that we can develop character.  This is not at all necessary.  All we need to do is make an honest and thorough effort to discover what is right and wrong, good and bad, and, when we are convinced on these points, then simply go out and face life for what it is worth.  There will be plenty of opportunity to develop character.  But you will never develop character by running from unpleasant situations, any more than you will develop your intellectual capacities by running away from study, or tone up your muscles by avoiding exercise.

–By Dallas Willard (1935-2013), in Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks, edited by Gary Black, Jr., 2016

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Psalm 119:67  —  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word.

Romans 5:3b-5  —   We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Job 36:15  —  But those who suffer, God delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.

II Corinthians 4:17  —   For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

 –Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children

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1313) Going Fishing With Jesus

By William Willimon (source lost)

     In Matthew 4:19 Jesus called some fishermen, ordinary folks like you and like me, to be his disciples.  He said to them, “Follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.”  Jesus has promised that those who follow him shall work with him in ‘catching people,’ that is, in leading others toward his kingdom.

     When was the last time you shared your faith with someone who is not a believer, not a member of the church?  Many people have never had that experience.  We are uncomfortable talking about religion with other people.  We Americans like to say, “Religion is a private affair,” something to keep to yourself.  Of course, we don’t want to be “pushy,” but fear of being too “pushy” leads most of us to say nothing at all about what we believe.

     Do you know the major reason given by people who don’t go to church when they are asked why they don’t go to church?  “Nobody ever asked me.”

     We’ve done a poor job of fishing with Jesus.  And yet Jesus has commanded us to share the gospel.  Think about the people with whom you work at the office the people you enjoy having lunch with at school, or your next-door neighbor.  Have you invited them to come to church with you?

     Maybe we still live with the old assumption that this is basically a “Christian country,” where being Christian comes with breathing the air and drinking the water.  We don’t have to tell people about the kingdom because they are already in it just by being lucky enough to be born in North America.  Not much need for fishing.

     If we were ever correct in those assumptions they are not correct today.  Increasing numbers of people are utterly befuddled by the church, have no knowledge of the Bible, and feel alone and disconnected from religious faith.  Rather than wringing our hands over the church’s decline, perhaps we ought to see this as a great opportunity for us again to enjoy fishing with Jesus, reaching out, and pointing others to God who has loved us and called us and calls and loves our neighbors as well.

     Thus, I shall tell you a story:

     When evangelical activist Dr. Tony Campolo was to speak at our chapel, a young man appeared at my office and asked to introduce Dr. Campolo before he spoke.  He told me that he would like to share something of what Dr. Campolo had meant to him.

     “Such as?” I asked.

     “Such as when I worked for him last summer, in Philadelphia,” he replied

    I asked him to tell me about it.

     “I got converted my senior year of high school.  I was a fresh, eager Christian, so when Dr. Campolo came to our town to speak, I went to hear him.  He was great.  After he spoke, he asked us to sign up for his program of inner-city ministry in Philadelphia.  So I did.

     “Well, in mid-June, about a hundred kids met in a Baptist church in Philadelphia.  We had about an hour of singing before Dr. Campolo arrived.  When he got to the church, we were really worked up, all enthusiastic and ready to go.  Dr. Campolo then preached for about an hour, and when he finished, people were shouting, standing on the pews clapping.  It was great.

     “’OK gang, are you ready to go out there and tell ’em about Jesus?’ he asked.  ‘Yeah, let’s go’ we shouted back.

     “‘Get on the bus!’ Tony shouted.  So we spilled out of the church and on to the bus.  We were singing clapping.  But then we began to drive deeper into the depths of the city.  We weren’t in a great neighborhood when we started riding, but it got worse.  Gradually, we stopped singing and all of us college kids was just staring out the windows.  We were scared.

     “Then the bus pulled up before one of the worst looking housing projects in Philadelphia.  Tony jumped on the bus opened the door and said, ‘Alright gang get out there and tell ’em about Jesus. I’ll be back at five o’clock.’

     “We made our hesitant way off the bus.  We stood there on the corner and had a prayer, and then we spread out.  I walked down the sidewalk and stopped before huge tenement house.  I gulped, said a prayer, and ventured inside.  There was a terrible odor.  Windows were out.  There were no lights in the hall.  I walked up one flight of stairs toward the door where I heard a baby crying.  I knocked on the door.

     “‘Who is it?’ said a loud voice inside.  Then the door was cracked open and a woman holding a naked baby, peered out at me.  ‘What you want?’ she asked in a harsh, mean voice.

     “I told her that I wanted to tell her about Jesus.

     “With that she swung the door open and began cursing me.  She cursed me all the way down the hall, down the flight of steps, out to the sidewalk.

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     “I felt terrible.   ‘Look at me,’ I said to myself.  ‘Some Mr. Christian I am.  How in the world could somebody like me think that I could tell anyone about Jesus?’

     “I sat down on the curb and cried.  Then I looked up and noticed a store on the corner, windows all boarded up and bars were over the door.  I went to the store, walked in, and looked around.  Then I remembered the baby had no diapers.  The mother was smoking.  I bought a box of paper diapers and a pack of cigarettes.

     “I walked back to the tenement house, said a prayer, walked in, walked up the flight of stairs, gulped, stood before the door and knocked.

     “’Who is it?’ said the voice inside.  When she opened the door I slid that box of diapers and those cigarettes in.  She looked at them, looked at me and said, ‘Come in.’

     “I stepped in the dingy apartment.

     “Sit down,’ she commanded.

     “I sat down on the old sofa and began to play with the baby.  I put a diaper on the baby, even though I have never put one on before.  When the woman offered me a cigarette, I smoked it, even though I don’t smoke.  I stayed there all afternoon, talking, playing with the baby, listening to the woman.

     “About four o’clock, the woman looked at me and said, ‘Let me ask you something.  What’s a nice college boy like you doing in a place like this?’

     “So I told her everything I knew about Jesus.  It took me about five minutes.  Then she said, ‘Pray for me and my baby that we can make it out of here alive’

     “And I prayed.

     “That evening after we were all back on the bus, Tony asked, ‘Well gang, did any of you get to tell ’em about Jesus?’

     “And I said, ‘Ya, I got to tell ’em about Jesus.  I went out to save somebody, and I ended up getting saved.  I guess I became a disciple.’”

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The moral of the story is that a tangible expression of care and concern might open the door for a few words about Jesus.   Watch for such opportunities and be ready to respond.

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Matthew 4:18-22  —  As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew.  They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.  Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.  They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets.  Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

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Lord, open my eyes so I may see the opportunities around me to tell others about you.  Amen.

1312) Morning and Evening Prayer (jb12)

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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-first day)

O Holy Spirit of God, come into this soul of mine and abide within it.  Inspire all my thoughts.  Fill all my imaginations.  Suggest all my decisions.  Dwell within my will and order all my doings.  Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my haste and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening; and give me grace at all times to rejoice in your companionship.

Accompany me today, O Spirit invisible, in all my goings, but stay with me also when I am in my own home and among my kindred.  Forbid that I should fail to show to those nearest to me the consideration and understanding that I show to others with whom I have to do.  Forbid that I should refuse to my own household the courtesy and politeness which I think proper to show to strangers.  Let the love that you command I have for my neighbor begin at home.

Leave me not, O gracious Presence, in such hours as I may today devote to the reading of books or of newspapers.  Guide my mind to choose the right books and, having chosen them, to read them in the right way.  When I read for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to you.  When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away from Thee.  Let all my reading so refresh my mind that I may the more eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true.

And let me have a special sense of your presence, O God, in those times that I devote to prayer and worship.

Keep me safe, my God, for in you I take refuge…  Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices and my body also will rest secure…  You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, and with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16:1,9, 11).   Amen.

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EVENING PRAYER  (Second day)

O Father in heaven, who created me to serve and to follow you, with sorrow and contrition of heart I acknowledge before you the faults and failures of the day that is now past.  For too long, O Father, have I tried your patience; too often have I betrayed the sacred trust you have given me to keep.  Yet you are still willing that I should come to you in lowliness of heart, as now I do, asking you again to drown my transgressions in the sea of your infinite love.

O Lord forgive:

My failure to be true even to my own accepted standards;

My self-deception in the face of temptation;

My choosing of the worse when I know the better;

My failure to apply to myself the standards of conduct I demand of others;

My blindness to the suffering of others and my slowness to be taught by my own;

My complacence towards wrongs that do not touch my own life and my over-sensitiveness to those that do;

My slowness to see the good in others and to see the evil in myself;

My hardness of heart towards my neighbors’ faults and my readiness to make allowance for my own;

My unwillingness to believe that Thou hast called me to a small work and my brother or sister to a great one;

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy spirit (Psalm 51:10-12).  Amen.

1311) Trying to Understand Atheists

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Dennis Prager  (1948- )

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“Two Questions for Atheists,” by Dennis Prager athttp://www.jewishjournal.com

Dennis Prager is a Jewish author and nationally syndicated radio talk show host.  His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

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     I have had the privilege of debating five of the top seven “25 Most Influential Living Atheists” as listed at SuperScholar.org:

#2: Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”)

#3: The late Christopher Hitchens (“God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”)

#4: Daniel Dennett (“Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon”)

#6: Steven Pinker (“How the Mind Works”)

#7: Michael Shermer, founding publisher of the Skeptic Magazine

     Recently, however, I realized that I never asked any of them two questions that I would now ask before any other:

  1. Do you hope you are right or wrong?
  2. Do you ever doubt your atheism?

     The answers to those questions would tell me what I would most like to know about the person:  how intellectually honest he is, and what motivates him.

     To be sure, the answers to those two questions neither validate nor invalidate any atheist arguments.  Atheist and theist arguments rise and fall on their merits, not on the motivations or personal characteristics of the atheist or the believer.  But on a purely human level, their answers would enable me to understand the atheist as a person and as a thinker.

     Take the first question: Do you hope you are right or wrong?

     I respect atheists who answer that they hope they are wrong.  It tells me that they understand the terrible consequences of atheism:  that all existence is random; that there is no ultimate meaning to life; that there is no objective morality — right and wrong are subjective personal or societal constructs; that when we die, there is nothing but eternal oblivion, meaning, among other things, that one is never reconnected with any loved ones; and there is no ultimate justice in the universe — murderers, torturers and their victims have identical fates: nothing.

     Anyone who would want all those things has either not considered the consequences of atheism or has what seems like an emotionally detached outlook on life.  A person who doesn’t want there to be ultimate meaning to existence, or good and evil to have an objective reality, or to be reunited with loved ones, or the bad punished and the good rewarded has a rather cold soul.

     That’s why I suspect atheists who think that way have not fully thought through their atheism.  This is especially so for those who allege that their atheism is primarily because of their conclusion that there is too much unjust human suffering for there to be a God.  If that is what has led you to your atheism, how could you possibly not hope there is a God?  Precisely because you are so disturbed by the amount of suffering in the world, wouldn’t you want a just God to exist?

     Now to the second question:  Do you ever doubt your atheism?

     A few years ago, the largest atheist organization in the United States, American Atheists, to its credit, invited me to Minneapolis to debate the head of the organization at its annual meeting.

     At one point, I looked at the audience and asked people to raise their hands if they ever doubted their atheism.  Not one hand went up.

     I found this interesting, if not disturbing, and said so.  Nonreligious individuals often accuse religious believers of not challenging themselves.  And, depending on the religion and on the individual, that is often the case.  Yet it would seem that believers challenge themselves more than atheists do.

     As I explained at the debate, I never met a believer who hadn’t at some point had doubts about God.  When experiencing, seeing or reading about terrible human suffering, all of us who believe in God have on occasion doubted our faith.  So, I asked the atheists, how is it that when you see a baby born or a spectacular sunset, or hear a Mozart symphony, or read about the infinite complexity of the human brain — none of these has ever prompted you to wonder whether there really might be a God?

     I remember sensing that I had a struck a nerve.

     So, then, while I still debate God’s existence with atheists, I do so in order that the audience will hear sound arguments for God’s existence.

     But what really interests me — and I think should interest any believer or atheist — are the answers to these two questions.

     Because only if the atheist responds, “I hope I am wrong” and “Yes, there have been occasions when I have wondered whether there really might be a God” — do I believe that I have encountered an individual who has really thought through his or her atheism.  I also believe that I have probably met a truly decent person.

     But a sad one.  For to know how awful the consequences of atheism are and still be convinced that there is no God is an unhappy fate indeed.

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“To sustain the belief that there is no God, atheism has to demonstrate infinite knowledge, which is tantamount to saying, ‘I have infinite knowledge that there is no being in existence with infinite knowledge.’”  –Ravi Zacharias

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“Atheism turns out to be too simple.  If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”  –C.S. Lewis

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Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Romans 1:20  —  Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

John 14:9  —  Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip?  Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.  How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Psalm 74:22  —  Arise, O God, defend your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!

Jeremiah 29:12-13  —  (Thus says the Lord), “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.  You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

Jude 1:22  —  Have mercy on those who doubt.

Romans 15:13  —  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

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A prayer for unbelieving loved ones, based on Romans 15:13:

God of hope, I pray that you fill ____  and ____ and ____ with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, they may abound in hope.

1310) A Prayer for an Unbelieving Husband

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A story told by Tom Housholder, pastor/evangelist in the former American Lutheran Church.  The story took place in the 1950’s in  Housholder’s first congregation.  I heard him tell this story when I was on internship in Sisseton, South Dakota in 1979.

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     Elmer lived the life of a hermit in a remote cabin in a valley in the mountains of Idaho.  Elmer had no friends, and no one knew anything about him.  His cabin was far from any main road, so people knew of him only because of his occasional trips into town to buy a few things.  Elmer did not go to church anywhere and never talked to anyone about anything.

     One day Elmer parked his old truck in front of the Lutheran church and went in to talk to Pastor Tom.  The pastor was surprised to see Elmer, and invited him to come into his office.  Elmer introduced himself and said, “Pastor, I would like to be baptized.  Would you do that for me?”

     Without hesitating, Pastor Tom said, “Sure, Elmer.  But can I ask you what made you decided you wanted to be baptized?”

     “Well, pastor,” Elmer said, “it was my wife that got me thinking.”

     “Your wife!” said a surprised Pastor Tom.  “I didn’t know you had a wife.”

     “I don’t anymore,” Elmer said looking down.  “She’s been dead for about sixty years.”

     The pastor shook his head and said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

     “It’s a long story,” Elmer replied, and then went on to tell the pastor the story of his life, a story no one in town had ever heard.

     Elmer was originally from Minnesota.  He got married, and he and his wife moved to North Dakota where they homesteaded a farm.  There, they had a child, and with tears in his eyes Elmer talked about how happy the three of them were.

     One afternoon in their second winter on the farm, Elmer’s wife and baby were visiting at a neighbor’s house.  Early in the evening it started to snow, so Elmer’s wife and child left for home.  On their way, the gentle snow suddenly turned into a blizzard, with the intense prairie winds blowing the heavy snow so hard that the mother could not see where she was going.  They lost their way, and both froze to death that night in the rapidly falling temperature.

     Elmer was devastated by the tragedy.  He could not get over it.  In the long and lonely nights that followed, he came to a decision.  He would never love anyone like that again.  In fact, for the rest of his life he would not even try to get to know anyone.  He did not want to leave himself open to being hurt like that ever again.

     The next Spring Elmer packed up a few belongings and headed farther west.  He bought a small place in this mountain valley, built a cabin on it, and stayed there.  And he kept that promise he made to himself, and never got to know a single person.

     One of the few things Elmer brought along from his home in North Dakota was his wife’s Bible.  It was important to her, and he had fond memories of her reading it every day.  Elmer said he was never interested in religion.  His wife would occasionally bring it up to him, but he paid no attention, and she never forced it.

     Many thousands of times over the last sixty years, Elmer would sit in his rocking chair and hold that Bible in his hands, thinking of his wife and how happy they were together.  He never opened the Bible.  He still was not interested in what it had to say.  Elmer just held that Bible because it reminded him of his wife.

     “Well,” Elmer said as he neared the end of his story, “I have arthritis in my hands now and I have been dropping things.  Last night when I reached over to pick up the Bible, it slipped out of my hands.  It fell open on the floor, and inside I could see a small piece of paper.  I put on my glasses to take a closer look, and I saw it was my wife’s handwriting.  It was a prayer.  It said, ‘Lord, get a hold of Elmer—he doesn’t know you yet.’  That isn’t much, but it was enough to make me want to do something about it.”

     Over the next few weeks Pastor Tom met with Elmer to help him ‘get to know the Lord.’  When baptism day came, everyone in the small congregation gathered around the font to serve as his sponsors.  When the baptism was complete, Elmer, who had never again wanted to get close to anyone, looked up and said to everyone, “Hi, family.”

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I Corinthians 7:13-14a…15b-16  —  If a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband…  God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

James 5:16b  —   The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

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Lord, get a hold of _______.  He/she doesn’t know you yet.  Amen.