1360) Prayers at the End of Another Year

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By Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

     Almighty and most merciful God, who hast not yet suffered me to fall into the Grave, grant that I may remember my past life, as to repent of the days and years which I have spent in forgetfulness of thy mercy, and neglect of my own salvation, and so use the time which thou shalt yet allow me, (to) become every day more diligent in the duties which in thy Providence shall be assigned me, and that when at last I shall be called to Judgment I may be received as a good and faithful servant unto everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ…  Amen. (1747/8)

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     Almighty and everlasting God, in whose hands are life and death, by whose will all things were created, and by whose providence they are sustained; I return thee thanks that thou hast given me life, and that thou hast continued it to this time, that thou hast hitherto forborne to snatch me away in the midst of Sin and Folly, and hast permitted me still to enjoy the means of Grace and (time) to Repent.  Grant, O merciful Lord, that thy Call may not be in vain, that my life may not be continued to the increase of my Guilt, and that thy Gracious Forbearance may not harden my heart in wickedness.  Let me remember, O my God, that as Days and Years pass over me I approach nearer to the Grave, where there is no repentance, and grant, that by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, I may so pass through this Life, that I may obtain Life everlasting…  Amen. (1744/5)

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     Almighty God, by whose will I was created, and by whose Providence I have been sustained, and by whose mercy I have been called to the knowledge of my Redeemer,…  grant, O Lord, that in reviewing my past life, I may recollect thy mercies to my preservation…  In affliction may I remember how often I have been (assisted), and in Prosperity may I know and confess from whose hand the blessing is received.  Let me, O Lord, so remember my sins, that I may abolish them by true repentance, and so improve the year to which thou hast graciously extended my life, and all the years which thou shalt yet allow me, that I may hourly become purer in thy sight; so that I may live in thy fear, and die in thy favor, and find mercy at the last day, for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Amen.  (1749/50)

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     Almighty God, by whose mercy my life has been yet prolonged to another year, grant that thy mercy may not be in vain.  Let not my years be multiplied to increase my guilt, but as (I grow older), let me become more pure in my thoughts, less desirous of sinful pleasures, more obedient to thy laws, and more careful of eternal happiness.  Let not the cares of the world distract me, nor the evils of age overwhelm me.  Enable me to use all enjoyments with due temperance, and run with diligence the race that is set before me.  Let not sin prevail on the remaining part of my life, and take not thy Holy Spirit from me, but as every day brings me nearer to my end, let every day contribute to make my end holy and happy.  As age comes upon me, let my mind be more withdrawn from vanity and folly, more enlightened with the knowledge of thy will, and more invigorated with resolution to obey it.  O Lord, calm my thoughts, direct my desires, and fortify my purposes.  Continue and increase thy lovingkindness to me, and, if it shall please thee, give quiet to my latter days.  And then, after the troubles of this life, when thou shalt call me hence, may I die in thy favor, for the sake of Jesus Christ…  Amen.  (A combination of phrases from the prayers of 1767, 1769, and 1773)

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Psalm 90:10, 12  —  The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away…  Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 

James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Philippians 3:13-14  —  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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Almighty God, by whose mercy I am permitted to behold the beginning of another year, bless me with thy help and favor.  Mitigate, if it shall seem best unto thee, the diseases of my body, and (calm) the disorders of my mind.  Dispel my terrors, and grant that the time which thou shalt yet allow me, may not pass unprofitably away.  Let not pleasure seduce me, idleness lull me, or misery depress me.  Let me perform to thy glory, and the good of my fellow creatures, the work which thou shalt yet appoint me.  And grant that as I draw nearer to my dissolution, I may, by the help of thy Holy Spirit, feel my knowledge of thee increased, my hope exalted, and my faith strengthened, that, when the hour which is coming shall come, I may pass by a holy death to everlasting happiness, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  (1770)

1359) Why Do I Need to Repent?

From The Word for Every Day, by Alvin Rogness, page 63, © 1981 Augsburg Publishing House

     Let me say at the outset that I don’t always feel the need to repent and be forgiven.  I believe I need to be; I know I do, because the Scriptures say very clearly that I do.  But what do I need to be forgiven for?  Like the rich young ruler, I have obeyed the commandments.  I have not murdered or committed adultery.  I’m not a thief, not even a minor shoplifter.  I’ve tried to be honest with IRS.  I may have stretched or withheld the truth at times, usually to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.  What’s so terrible about a little lie?  Certainly not terrible enough to drive Jesus to a cross for my sins.

     If I want to understand myself, and if I want to understand Christ’s love for me, I am told that I must find myself in the corner of bad people who need, more than anything else, the forgiveness of sins.  The question haunts me.  Is there in me, and in all people, some evil so subtle and pervasive and destructive (like a hidden cancer) that unless it is dealt with, any progress toward spiritual health (honesty, joy, love, hope) will be an illusion?  And does it take a therapy so radical that only the death of Jesus will do?  Our Christian faith says that it cost him a cross.

    You may be initially drawn to Jesus by his miracles of mercy, by his penetrating parables, by his indignation against sham and oppression.  Before long, as Jesus grows upon you, and you stand watching him die, you will know a strange uneasiness.  You don’t belong in the same company with him.  Like Peter, you’ll feel like crying out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Somehow the yawning gap between you and Jesus will have to be bridged.  Your most noble efforts won’t do it.  The only bridge is repentance and confession, and being caught in the tide of his forgiving love which sweeps all your sins away.

    Forgiveness has tended to slip out of the vocabulary of secular man.  If we believe that there is no God at the center to be accountable to and that the universe is but a vast machine, forgiveness is meaningless.  If man is but a cog in the machine, driven by his appetite and his chemistry, forgiveness is nonsense.  If we are but helpless pieces of some cosmic game, why ask us to repent and be forgiven?  You don’t forgive a dog for stealing a bone, nor a tornado for leveling a village, nor a river for overflowing its banks.  But we are created children of God, with holiness the expectation and demand, and as utter failures to meet the demand, there is no door but forgiveness for our return to God.

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“The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation.”

–Martin Luther

“Repentance is not moaning and remorse, but turning and change.”

–J. I. Packer

“Chronic remorse is a most undesirable sentiment.  If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.  On no account brood over your wrongdoing.  Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

 –Aldous Huxley

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I John 1:8-10 — If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Matthew 4:17  —  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Acts 2:37-38a  —  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”

II Corinthians 7:8a…9-10a  —  For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it…  Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret.

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CONFESSION OF SIN from the LUTHERAN LITURGY OF WURTTEMBERG, 1536

    I, poor sinner, confess before thee, my God and Creator, that I, alas, have sinned against thee grievously and in many ways: not alone by gross, outward sins, but much more by inward and inborn blindness, unbelief and doubt, despondence and impatience, pride and evil covetousness, secret envy, hatred and malice, and other wicked devices– as Thou, my Lord and God, dost perceive in me, and I, alas, cannot sufficiently perceive.  I repent of these things and grieve over them, and from the heart I implore grace through thy dear Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
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“People are destined to die once, and after that, to face judgment.”  –Hebrews 9:27

“Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be laid bare.”   –II Peter 3:8-10

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“You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late.”
–Thomas Fuller
“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination”
–Augustine
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God, be merciful to me, a sinner.  –Luke 18:13b

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1358) Religion is the Only Basis of Society

By William E. Channing (1780-1842); grandson of William Ellery (1727-1827), a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.

I found this reading in another one of the McGuffey Readers (see yesterday’s meditation).  This one is from the 1879 edition of McGuffey’s Eclectic Fourth Reader.  The ‘fourth’ does not mean fourth grade, but fourth level.  There were Readers for six levels, so this fourth reader was probably written for ages 14-16, but the age group for the upper levels varied widely.    

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     Religion is a social concern for it operates powerfully on society, contributing, in various ways, to its stability and prosperity.  Religion is not merely a private affair.  The community is deeply interested in its diffusion, for it is the best support of the virtues and principles, on which the social order rests.  Pure and undefiled religion is to do good, and so it follows very plainly, that if God be the Author and Friend of society, then the recognition of Him must enforce all social duty, and enlightened piety must give its whole strength to public order.

     Few people suspect the extent of the support given by religion to every virtue.  Few are aware of how much our moral and social sentiments are fed from this fountain; how powerless conscience would become without the belief of a God; and how crippled would be human benevolence were there not the sense of a higher benevolence to quicken and sustain it.  Few comprehend how suddenly the whole social fabric would quake, and with what a fearful crash it would sink into hopeless ruin, if the ideas of a supreme Being, of accountability, and of a future life, to be utterly erased from every mind.

     Let people thoroughly believe that they are the work and sport of chance; that no superior intelligence concerns itself with human affairs; that the weak have no guardian and the injured no avenger; that there is no recompense for sacrifices to uprightness and the public good; that an oath is unheard in heaven; that secret crimes have no witness but the perpetrator; that human existence has no purpose and human virtue no unfailing friend; that this brief life is everything to us, and death is total, everlasting extinction;– once let everyone thoroughly abandon religion, and who can conceive or describe the extent of the desolation which would follow.

     We hope, perhaps, that human laws and natural sympathy would hold society together.  As reasonably might we believe, that were the sun quenched in the heavens, our torches would illuminate, and our fires quicken and fertilize the creation.  What is there in human nature to awaken respect and tenderness, if man is the unprotected insect of a day?  And what more are we if atheism be true?

     Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.  Appetite, knowing no restraint, and suffering, having no solace or hope, would trample in scorn on the restraints of human laws.  Virtue, duty, principle, would be mocked and spurned as unmeaning sounds.  A sordid self-interest would supplant every other feeling ; and man would become in fact, what the theory of atheism declares him to be– a mere animal and thus, a companion for brutes.

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Psalm 33:12a  —  Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.

Isaiah 33:6  —  (The Lord) will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Titus 3:1-2  —  Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,  to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.

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.

Galatians 5:13  —  My friends, you were chosen to be free.  So don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do anything you want.  Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.

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A PRAYER FOR THE NATION from The Book of Common Prayer:
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn:  Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

1357) A Good Boy

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McGuffey Readers were a series of graded primers in six levels, first published between 1836 and 1840.  They were edited by Scottish immigrant William H. McGuffey (1800-1873).  They were widely used as textbooks in American schools from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, and are still used today in some private schools and in homeschooling.  It is estimated that at least 120 million copies of McGuffey’s Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960, placing its sales in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary.  Since 1961, they have continued to sell at a rate of some 30,000 copies a year.  Along with teaching children to read, the McGuffey’s Readers also taught science, history, spelling, grammar, religion, and morality.  This reading, entitled “Emulation Without Envy,” is from the 1879 edition of McGuffey’s Eclectic Second Reader.  The ‘second’ does not mean second grade, but second level, and was generally used for children ages 8-10.

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     Frank’s father was speaking to a friend one day on the subject of competition at school.  He said that he was sure that envy is not the necessary result of competition at school.

     He had been excelled by many, but he could not remember ever having felt envious of his successful rivals.  “Nor did my winning many a prize from my friend Birch ever lessen his friendship for me.”

      In support of the truth of what Frank’s father had said, a friend, who was present, related an anecdote, which he had observed in a school in his neighborhood.

     At this school, the sons of several wealthy farmers, and others, who were poorer, received instruction.  Frank listened with great attention while the gentleman gave the following account of the two rivals.

      “It happened that the son of a rich farmer, and the son of a poor widow, came in competition for the class.  They were so nearly equal, that the teacher could scarcely decide between them.  Some days one, and some days the other, gained the head of the class.  The top student would be determined by seeing who should be at the head of the class for the greater number of days in the week.

     “The widow’s son, by the last day’s trial won, and maintained his place the following weeks, until the school was dismissed for vacation.

     “When they met again, the widow’s son did not appear, and the farmer’s son being next in excellence, could now have been at the head of his class.  Instead of seizing the vacant place, however, he went to the widow’s house to ask why her son was absent.

     “Poverty was the cause.  She found that she was not able, no matter how hard she tried, to continue to pay for his tuition and books, and the poor boy had returned to day labor for her support.

     “The farmer’s son, out of the allowance of pocket money which his father gave him, bought all the necessary books and paid for the tuition of his rival.  He also permitted him to be brought back again to the head of his class, where he continued for a long time, at the expense of his generous rival.”

     Frank clapped his hands with delight at hearing this story.  Mary came up to ask what pleased him so much, and he repeated it to her with delight.  “That farmer’s boy,” added he, “must have had a strong mind, for my father’s friend, who told the anecdote, said that people of strong minds are never envious; that weak minds are the ones filled with envy.”

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I Peter 2:1  —   Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.

Galatians 5:26  —  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

I Corinthians 13:4  —  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “ Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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Christ has no body now on earth but yours:

Yours are the only hands with which he can do his work;

Yours are the only feet with which he can go about the world;

Yours are the only eyes through which his compassion can shine forth upon a troubled world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

–Teresa of Avila  (1515-1582)

1356) When You Are Sick

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Lovis Corinth, Franz Heinrich Corinth on his Sick Bed, 1888

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By Lutheran pastor Al Rogness (1908-1992), Book of Comfort, Augsburg Publishing House, 1979, pages 32-35.

     I had usually thanked God for health and prayed that he might keep me from being ill.  One evening in 1962, while speaking in a church, I suddenly collapsed.  For two weeks I rested in a hospital waiting for my duodenal ulcer to stop bleeding.

     I don’t remember thinking that if I had stronger faith the bleeding would stop, or that someone with the gift of healing could lay hands on my head and make it stop.  I relied on the skills that the Lord had given his servants, the doctors, and on the recuperative powers God had placed in my body.  Of course I prayed for healing.  Who doesn’t when ill?   You may have forgotten to pray for almost anything, but you do look to God when illness strikes.  Even people who have trouble taking God’s intervention seriously at all will pray in a crisis.  From World War I came the line, “There are not atheists in foxholes.”  There is an old Russian proverb– Kak travoga, tak do boga—“In dire extremity man remembers his God.”

     I had no trouble thanking God for restoring my health, and I didn’t bother my mind about whether it was through the science of medicine (which is God’s) or through the healing powers of my body (which is God’s), or whether God intervened in some special way.

     Most of us will not exclude God’s activity in medicine.  It has always seemed to me that Christian Scientists limit God (by not going to doctors), denying part of the divine greatness and goodness.

     God is on the side of life and health.  If I understand Scripture right, God intended us for everlasting life, uninterrupted by death.  God did not want us to be sick and die.  Sin and sickness and death are intruders.  I’ve never hesitated to urge the sick to pray for health.  I think we’re on God’s side when we do everything possible to guard the gift of life and health.

     God’s plan is that sin and illness and death will at last be destroyed.  Until that moment comes, God allows death to be the gateway through which we pass to inherit a life that is unending.  We have no guarantee that we will outmaneuver death and live forever on this side, no matter how many healers we employ.  Even Jesus, who brought back from the dead Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain, and Jairus’ daughter, did not give them eternal tenure on this side.  Eventually they did have to die.

     Think of the comfort of healing God has given us in the last century through the spectacular advances in medical science.  Many of the old killers— smallpox, diphtheria, peritonitis, pneumonia— are virtually gone.

     Most doctors will say that they only remove or correct obstructions that keep the body from doing its own healing work.  But often we don’t cooperate with God in allowing the recuperative powers of our own bodies to take effect.  We overeat.  We drink damaging beverages.  We fail to exercise.

     In 1962 I took stock of my neglects.  I had plunged ahead in my work, been neglectful of rest and sleep, and in other ways ignored the rights of my body.  How could expect God to keep me well if I defied his laws?

     How about God’s direct intervention through extraordinary means?  Are there “divine healers”?  The New Testament seems to indicate that God does give the gift of healing to certain people.  And many people are sure that the Lord has, through these people, intervened in ways beyond the reach of science or the normal recuperative powers of the body.

     When one of my friends was ill with a puzzling disease, people urged his wife to summon Oral Roberts or some person with a reputation for healing.  She hesitated to summon anyone.  Hundreds, even thousands of people were already pleading with God for his healing.  She asked herself, “What kind of a God would ignore the prayers of thousands and sit unmoved in his heavens, withholding healing till some “assigned” person came?”  She said, “I’d have to change my whole idea of a merciful God if I were to think that he would let my husband die unless a special person prayed.”

     On the other hand, there is the testimony of many people who believe firmly that God has used some person (not the doctor) for special healing.  Perhaps this is one of the mysteries we’ll have to live with.

     Much as we desire healing and life, we must try to keep illness in the right perspective.  We know that life on this side is uncertain.  We know too that the excellence of a life is not measured by its length, any more than the excellence of a painting depends on the size of the canvas.  We live in the anticipation of life everlasting on the other side, which a gracious God in love and forgiveness has promised us in Christ Jesus.

     To be sick puts you on trial.  To be on your back in the hospital, in pain and perhaps with scant hope of recovery, is one of the hardest assignments life can give you.  If you are able to exercise patience, love, cheerfulness, a sense of humor, faith, and hope in such an hour, you may have given your family and friends the most treasured memories they will ever have; and your own measure of comfort will be great.

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Psalm 119:71  —  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 10:17  —  You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.

Psalm 41:3  —  The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and restores them from their bed of illness.

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A PRAYER FOR HEALING:

Lord, bless all the means that are used for my recovery, and restore me to my health in good time; but if you have appointed that it should be otherwise, may your blessed will be done.  Draw me away from an affection for things below, and fill me with an ardent desire for heaven.  Lord, make me fit for yourself, and then, when it pleases you, call me to those eternal joys that you have promised.  For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Thomas Ken  (1637-1711)

1355) The Book that Led its Own Author to Christ

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Lew Wallace (1827-1905)

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From the book 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World, by William and Randy Peterson, 2001, pages 141-142 (adapted).  

     By the time he wrote Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, General Lew Wallace had already achieved fame in several careers.  He had served in both the Mexican War and the Civil War; he had practiced law; and he had been governor of the New Mexico territory.

     Though he had a curiosity about religion, he was not a Christian.  In his own words: “I was not in the least influenced by religious sentiment.  I had no convictions about God or Christ.  My ignorance of the Bible was painfully a spot of darkness in the darkness.  I was ashamed of myself.”

     Once he had spent several hours talking with the noted atheist Robert Ingersoll.  Ingersoll was the nation’s most prominent atheist, and tried hard to convince Wallace that Christianity was not true, “vomiting forth ideas and arguments like an intellectual volcano” Wallace later recalled. Ingersoll’s arguments made Wallace determined to come up with some personal convictions of his own about religion.  As Wallace started to read the New Testament, he was interested in the story of the wise men in Matthew chapter two.  Who were they?  Where in the East did they come from?  After considerable research he wrote up his ideas thinking that someday he might develop them into a magazine article.  Little did he know what would eventually develop from that research.

     A few months later he spent an evening with friends, discussing religion, the Bible, and Jesus Christ.  Wallace himself said very little that evening because he didn’t have much to say.  He had never thought religion was important, but after that discussion he considered the possibility that he had been wrong.  Again, he suspected that the answers would be in the Bible.

     Wallace felt that the best way to study something was to have a practical goal.  So he told his wife he was going to write a book, and that the subject would be Jesus Christ.  The first chapter would be derived from his research on the wise men, and the last chapter would be about the crucifixion.  When his wife asked him what he would put in between, he replied, “I don’t know yet.”

     His research and planning took seven years.  In the middle of that time, he was appointed governor of the New Mexico territory.  Occasionally his literary work would be temporarily disrupted by a war with Native American tribes or a death threat from the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid, but Wallace kept returning to his research and writing.  Besides reading the Bible, he read every book he could find about the Bible.  And as his research progressed, he more and more came to believe the Gospel accounts.  By time Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ was completed in 1880, Lew Wallace was convinced that Jesus was indeed the Christ.

     Wallace’s story tells of Judah Ben-Hur, a patrician Jew whose enemy, Messala, causes him to be unjustly sentenced to the galleys and his family to be imprisoned.  When Ben-Hur is freed, he enters a chariot race against Messala, and in the race Messala is defeated and maimed.  Ben-Hur’s mother and sister, freed by the new Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, are cured of leprosy by Jesus shortly before his crucifixion.

     The book quickly rose to the top of the U. S. all-time best-selling list (not counting the Bible) and remained there until 1936.  In 1926 it was made into a silent film; its producers spent more than four million dollars to make it, a record up to that time.  Then in 1959 it was remade as a three-and-a-half-hour epic blockbuster.  Some critics have called it the greatest epic film ever made.  The film, which cost fifteen million and took six years to make, was nominated for twelve Academy awards and won eleven.  It was again made into a movie in 2016.  It has been called the most influential religious book of the 19th century.

     And it all began because General Lew Wallace wanted to find out a bit more about the wise men.

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“It’s one of the great if little known ironies in the history of American literature: Having set out to win another soul to the side of skepticism, Robert Ingersoll instead inspired a Biblical epic that would rival the actual Bible for influence and popularity in Gilded Age America—and a folk story that has been reborn, in one medium or another, in every generation since.”

–John Swansburg

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Matthew 2:1  —  Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. (KJV)

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

Deuteronomy 4:29  —  If… you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Luke 11:9  —  (Jesus said), “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

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Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

–Mark 9:24

1354) Christmas Peace

Image result for merry christmas peace images

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Luke 2:13-14  —  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

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CHRISTMAS MORNING by Larry Kiewel

I awoke.

Always a surprise, actually.

I lay quietly

As first light began its progress.

Precipitation was chased against

My window by a gale force wind.

The dog lay quietly on the floor.

My partner slept loudly beside me.

I did an inventory.

I was warm and dry.

I knew where all my children were.

I knew that their children were

Safe and warm and as

Happy as young people can be.

What a blessing to wake on a

Blessed morning to peace

In my miniature world.

Perhaps every morning

Is a Christmas morning.

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Not everyone awakes this morning to such peace in their ‘miniature world,’ but we can, as the poem expresses nicely, be grateful for the blessings of whatever temporary peace we do have in this life, for however long it lasts.  And because ‘a Savior has been born to us,’ we can rejoice in the promise of that eternal peace in God’s eternal home.

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Colossians 1:2b  —  Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

James 1:17  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…

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A PRAYER FOR CHRISTMAS MORNING
By Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933), from A Treasury of Christmas Stories

The day of joy returns, Father in Heaven, and crowns another year with peace and good will.

Help us rightly to remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men.

Close the doors of hate and open the doors of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil, by the blessing that Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our bed with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

1353) Bethlehem in Your Heart

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From The Word for Every Day, by Alvin Rogness, Augsburg Publishing House, 1981, page 365.

     Bethlehem can be in our hearts.  Jesus came to this little village.  He can come to us too.

     His coming to the earth centuries ago was a part of Gods gigantic maneuver to get into our hearts.  In fact, if people are not captured for him, there is a sense in which Bethlehem and Calvary will have failed.  God’s objective is not the conquest of nations, but of people, you and me, one by one.  It stretches our imaginations to their limits to believe that God would bother with this tiny planet and with us who despoil it and who too often ignore him and one another.

     He did not come because great hosts of people awaited him.  On that first Christmas night only a few scattered shepherds took note.  The rest of the world, and even the little village itself, carried on as if nothing eventful had occurred.  Even during Jesus’ 33 years on earth, there was no surge of interest and loyalty.  At Calvary virtually everyone had deserted him.

     Only in the wake of the Easter resurrection did things happen, and even then rather quietly.  Not until three centuries later did he find a place in the courts of the empire.  But since that time the name of Jesus has become the most honored name in the world.  Hundreds of millions have acclaimed him King and Lord and Savior.

     God’s objective remains the same as that Bethlehem night.  Not nations, not civilizations, not cultures, not the planet itself (all these are passing away), but people, one by one, are in his eye.  And he wants to take up residence within us, to hold and keep us now and forever.  We are his Bethlehem, as Phillips Brooks says in his beloved hymn:

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O Little Town of Bethlehem, verse 3

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Luke 2:15  —  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Matthew 22:37-38  —  Jesus replied:  “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’   This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

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

Philippians 4:7  —  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Come Into My Heart, Lord Jesus  by Harry Clarke (1888-1957)

Come into my heart, O Lord Jesus,
Come into my heart, I pray;
My soul is so troubled and weary,
Come into my heart, today.

Refrain:  Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay,
  Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.

Come into my heart, O Lord Jesus,
I need Thee through life’s dreary way;
The burden of sin is so heavy,
Come into my heart to stay.  Refrain.

Come into my heart, O Lord Jesus,
Now cleanse and illumine my soul;
Fill me with Thy wonderful Spirit,
Come in and take full control.  Refrain.

Listen at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCJuFt_cHzE

1352) What was Jesus Doing in those Thirty Silent Years?

jesus.sorrow

Christ in the Temple at Twelve, Heinrich Hofmann (1824-1911)

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By David Mathis, posted December 21, 2016 at http://www.desiringGod.org

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     It is striking how little we know about most of Jesus’s life on earth.  Between the events surrounding his celebrated birth and the beginning of his public ministry when he was “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23), very few details have survived.

     Given the influence and impact of his life, humanly speaking, we might find it surprising that so little about his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood is available — especially with the interest his followers, who worshiped him as God, took in his life.  That is, unless, divinely speaking, this is precisely how God wanted it.

     After the birth story, the first Gospel tells us about the visit from magi, pagan astrologers from the east (Matthew 2:1–12), the family’s flight to Egypt for haven (Matthew 2:13–18), and their eventual return upon the death of Herod (Matthew 2:19–23).  Matthew then jumps immediately to the fore-running ministry of John the Baptist, and Jesus as a full-grown adult — with nothing at all about the intervening thirty-plus years of childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.

     The third Gospel has more to say, but captures three decades of the most important human life in the history of the world in remarkably simple terms.  Luke tells of the high angelic announcement to lowly shepherds (Luke 2:8–21) and the young family’s first visit to the temple (Luke 2:22–38).  He then summarizes Jesus’s first twelve years of life in astonishing modesty:

The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  And the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:40)

     Then, after recounting the story of a 12-year-old Jesus impressing adults at the temple (Luke 2:41–51), Luke reports some two decades — well more than half the God-man’s dwelling among us — in this simple sentence:

Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52)

     How fascinating would it be to know what life was like for the boy Jesus?  Did he plainly outpace his peers in learning?  Did his sinlessness infuriate his siblings?  How skilled was he as a worker?

     But it’s easy to digress into speculation and miss the powerful point of these important summary verses in Luke.  God has something to teach us here in the precious few details.  That he would send his own Son to live and mature and labor in relative obscurity for some three decades, before “going public” and gaining recognition as an influential teacher, has something to say to us about the dignity of ordinary human life and labor — and the sanctity of incremental growth into maturity.

     God could have sent a full-grown Christ.  And from the beginning, he could have created a world of static existence without infants, children, awkward teens, middle-agers, and declining seniors — just a race of young, spry, “mature” adults.  But God didn’t do it that way.  And he doesn’t do it that way today.  He designed us for dynamic existence, for stages and seasons of life, for growth and development in body and in soul, both toward others and toward God.

     The lion’s share of Jesus’s earthly life powerfully dignifies the everyday pains of maturity and growth common to humanity.  Jesus is both “truly God and truly man.”  Having a “true human body,” Jesus was born, he grew, he thirsted, he hungered, he wept, he slept, he sweated, he bled, and he died.

     All four Gospels unfold his three-year public ministry, and give nearly half their space to the final week of his life.  But what was the God-man doing most of his earthly life?  He was growing.  What did he do for three decades between his celebrated birth and his unforgettable ministry?  He walked the ordinary, unglamorous path of basic human growth and development.  He grew.

     The man Jesus did not simply emerge from the wilderness preaching the kingdom.  He learned to latch and crawl, to walk and talk.  He scraped his knees.  Perhaps he broke a finger or wrist.  He fought off the common cold, suffered through sick days, and navigated his way in the awkwardness of adolescence.  He learned social graces and worked as a common laborer in relative obscurity more than half his earthly life.

     But Jesus grew not only in body, but also in soul, and like every other human, in wisdom and knowledge.  Even by age 12, Luke could say Jesus was “filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40), not because he got it all at once, or always had it, but because he was learning.

     Through sustained effort and hard work, he came into mental acumen and emotional intelligence that he did not possess as a child.  And he didn’t receive it all in one moment, but he grew in wisdom, through the painful steps of regular progress.  His human mind and heart developed. He grew mentally and emotionally, just as he grew physically.

     Surely, we find extraordinary instances later in his life of supernatural knowledge, given by the Spirit, in the context of ministry.  He knew Nathanael before he met him (John 1:47), that the Samaritan woman had five husbands (John 4:18), and that Lazarus had died (John 11:14). But we shouldn’t confuse such supernatural knowledge, given by special revelation, with the hard-earned, infinite learning of his upbringing.

     Jesus learned from the Scriptures and from Mary and Joseph, in community and in the power of the Holy Spirit, and he increased in wisdom by carefully observing everyday life and how to navigate God’s world.

     An essential aspect of his growth in stature and wisdom was his learning obedience, both to his earthly parents (he “was submissive to them,” Luke 2:51) and his heavenly Father:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7–9)

     That he “learned obedience” does not mean that he began as disobedient, but that he began as unlearned and inexperienced, and the dynamic existence of human life gave him experience and know-how.  That he was “made perfect” doesn’t mean that he began as sinful, but that he began in sinless immaturity and grew into maturity.

     No human, not even the God-man himself, skips the growth and maturation process.  Don’t begrudge God the glory of your long, arduous maturation process.  In it you are tasting the growing pains that Jesus knows very well.  And he stands ready to help you persevere until God’s process is complete.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

1351) Feeling Sorry for the Shepherds

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Dutch painter Govaert Flinck (1615-1650);  Angels Announcing Christ’s birth to the Shepherds (1639)

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     I have often wondered about the shepherds in the Christmas story.  Luke 2:20 says that after they saw the baby Jesus “they returned glorifying and praising God,” and they “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child” (verse 17).  I wonder how that went.  Verse 18 says “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”

     But then what?  Perhaps after such an announcement everyone was expecting more angels, more announcements, and more fanfare.  But there was nothing.  Mary and Joseph and the newborn Savior were not escorted to the palace or even the temple.  The baby was given no special honor.  In fact, when Herod heard about a newborn king, he sent soldiers out to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem under two years old.  That probably made everyone a little less amazed and a little more skeptical of the shepherds’ message.  Was the baby even still alive?  Joseph and Mary escaped to Egypt before Herod’s massacre, so they were safe.  But did anyone in Bethlehem know that?  Did the shepherds even know it?  Probably not.  Matthew 2:14 tells us the Holy Family left during the night after Joseph was warned in a dream of Herod’s intent.

     So nothing out of the ordinary happened after that extraordinary night; nothing for the next 30 years that would publicly confirm the angel’s message on that first Christmas night.  There was no further indication that the young couple in the stable that night was anything more than just another poor family going through a bad time.

     When you think about it, you have to feel sorry for the shepherds.  I do.  Some of them may well have died over the next thirty years without ever seeing anything else come of the angel’s message.  Can you imagine how it might have gone for them after the initial excitement wore off, and the skepticism began to set in?  The shepherds would go into the local café for a donut and coffee, and one of the local big mouths would yell out, “Hey boys, were there any angels singing to you last night?”

     Perhaps the shepherds themselves began to wonder.  After all, they saw angels on just one night, and then nothing else for all those years.  Then, of course, they would have seen something.  Then, with Jesus being famous all over the nation, the shepherds would have been celebrities with their inside story of that awesome night three decades earlier.  This would have been especially true when Jesus entered Jerusalem as a king on Palm Sunday, and rose from the dead one week later.  Bethlehem was just a few miles down the road from Jerusalem, so then finally, the shepherds would have been vindicated.

     But until then, there was nothing of the sort.  Thirty years must have seemed like a longtime of silence.  What great excitement on the night of Jesus’ birth, and then such disappointing silence for so long.

     For me, this makes Christmas story all the more real.  This is a silence we all have experienced.  Have you ever wondered where God is, what he is doing, why he is taking so long to answer your prayers, or why he doesn’t show up when you need him?  Does it ever seem to you like God is silent?

     And isn’t it true that this silence of God is, for some, felt most of all at Christmas-time.  For those who are lonely, those who are depressed, those who have recently lost a loved one in death, and those who are troubled in any way– for all of them, Christmas can be the very worst time of year.  The loneliness is worse because this is the time everyone is getting together with loved ones.  The despair is worse because this is the time when everyone is supposed to be jolly and singing ‘Joy to the World.’  The troubled spirit is even more troubled because this is supposed to be the time of peace for all.  And the grief over lost loved ones is worse because the empty place at the table is all the more painfully felt when everyone else is there for Christmas.  We can imagine how the shepherds must have felt, seeing God and feeling his presence so profoundly, and then not seeing anything for so long.

     God can seem so very close, like at a Christmas Eve candlelight service, with everyone singing “Silent Night” by the light of a hundred candles.  But God can also seem so very far away and silent.  God acts and reveals himself when and where he pleases. 

     God may have seemed absent, but was not silent, in the Christmas story.  He sent his angels to the shepherds, and the shepherds went to the stable, and there they told their story, giving Mary plenty to ponder in her heart (Luke 2:19).

     In the story of Jesus’ birth we see both the nearness of God and the silence of God.  When it seems to you that God is silent and far away, remember how the shepherds heard that great announcement, and then faced 30 years of silence.  And remember how Mary and Joseph heard such wonderful promises, and then had to endure such a difficult night.  Perhaps when it seems God is most absent or most silent, He is, in fact, most active and present; as in the Christmas story.

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Psalm 6:3  —  My soul is in deep anguish.  How long, Lord, how long?

Psalm 22:1a and Matthew 27:46b  —  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 28:20b  —  (Jesus said), “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

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Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask thee to stay, close by me forever, and love me I pray.

Away in a Manger (verse three)