1391) A Complete History of the Human Race

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            A great king once asked all of his best scholars to compile a history of the human race.  After many years of work, the scholars came to him with the results of their work– 500 thick volumes, carried by a caravan of mules.  It was the most comprehensive history ever written.

            But the king was displeased, and said to the chief scholar, “This is too much; you must condense it.” 

            The old scholar replied: “Sir, if you desire, all of these volumes can be reduced to a single sentence.  With only eight words I can summarize for you the whole history of humanity: They were born, they suffered and they died.  That is the story of every person who ever lived, and thus, it tells the story of the entire human race.  It is your story and it is my story.  We are born, we suffer, and we die.”

            This certainly is what we see of it, and a sad story it is.  Billions of individual persons, each one, a miracle of life; but here only for a moment and then gone forever.  Yet strangely, many people are indifferent to such a hopeless prospect, giving it little or no thought. 

            But, one might say, “Facts are facts, and if that is all there is to it, there is no reason to add to the misery by dwelling upon it; so let’s just eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.”  Why ruin the little bit of time we have by thinking about how sad and pointless it all is?

            Unless, that is, there is more to the story.  And if there is more to the story, one would think all would be eager to hear about it.  In fact, if there was even a possibility of more, it would only be reasonable that everyone would be on the alert for any sign of hope, paying close attention, yearning for any bit of good news that would suggest a different ending to our story.

            The Bible does tell a bigger story, revealing to us that there is more to life than being born, suffering, and dying.  Knowing what God tells us in that book about our lives changes everything, now and forever.

            C. S. Lewis once compared the history of the world to a great play, many acts long. He said that each one of us makes our short appearance as a character in just one small part, in just one scene, of one of the many acts of this grand play.  This is our only appearance, and that is all we see of the play.  We may hear about some of what happened in the earlier acts, but we play our part not knowing anything of the rest of the play.  We don’t even know if our part is in the beginning, middle, or near the end of the play, nor do we (on our own) know anything of how the play turns out.  We live our lives and we play our parts, but we don’t know nearly enough from the little bit we see and hear about to evaluate the play.  Many things will not make any sense to us– but that is what one would expect if seeing only small part of a long play.  We don’t even know if it is a comedy or a tragedy or a farce. 

     This illustrates our plight.  But we are not in a play, we are living a real life, and it would be most interesting, and perhaps even of crucial importance, to know how the play turns out.  

            The Bible reveals to us much more of the play.  Most importantly, it tells us how the play turns out, and how we can best play our part.  The Bible itself is primarily a story.  Its pages are filled with stories, all of which are a part of, and point to, the main story.  This is how Abraham Heschel describes the main story:  “All of human history as seen by the Bible is the history of God in search of man;” every man and every woman.  And so we find the rest of our story in the Bible.  We find out how we got here, and what our part is in the play, and how the play will end, and even whether or not we will make another appearance.  And we also find out that how we play our part now makes all the difference.

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Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

–William Shakespeare, Macbeth

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James 4:14b  —  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Ecclesiastes 3:11b  —  …No one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Luke 12:19-20  —  (The man in Jesus parable said to himself), “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”  But God said to him, “You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

John 3:16  —  (Jesus said), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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Lord Jesus Christ, we are seekers after a city not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, in that better Country of Life which is the home of the soul.  Be Thou our Guide, through the darkness in the Valley of Shadows, to the beautiful shore in that land of peace and rest.  Here we live so small a part of our life; here we are strangers and pilgrims.  Be Thou our Savior and help us so that we lose not the way to the Father’s house.  Prepare a room in our hearts that we may one day inherit a room in that place where God himself shall wipe away all tears and where shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain; forever and ever.  Amen.  

–Author unknown

1390) The Moment of Truth

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By Fred Craddock (1928-2015), Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 2001, Chalice Press, pages 23-24.

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     When I was pastoring in Tennessee, there was a girl about seven years old who came to our church regularly for Sunday school, and sometimes her parents let her stay for the worship service.  They didn’t come.  We had a circular drive at that church.  It was built for people who let their children off and drove on.  We didn’t want to inconvenience them, so we had a circular drive.  But they were very faithful, Mom and Dad.  They had moved from New Jersey with the new chemical plant.  He was upwardly mobile; they were both very ambitious; and they didn’t come to church.  There wasn’t really any need for that, I guess.

     But on Saturday nights, the whole town knew of their parties.  They gave parties, not for entertainment, but as part of the upwardly mobile thing.  That determined who was invited:  the right people, the one just above him at work, and all the way on up to the boss.  And those parties were full of drinking and wild and vulgar things.  Everybody knew.

     But there was their beautiful girl every Sunday.

     One Sunday morning I looked out, and she was there.  I thought, “Well, she’s with her friends,” but it was her Mom and Dad.  After the sermon, at the close of the service, as is the custom at my church, came an invitation to discipleship, and Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad came to the front.  They confessed faith in Christ.  Afterward I asked, “What prompted this?”

     They said, “Well, do you know about our parties?”

     And I said, “Yeah, I have heard about your parties.”

     They said, “Well, we had one last night again, and it got a little loud, it got a little rough, and there was too much drinking.   All the noise woke our daughter, and she came downstairs to about the third step.  She saw that we were eating and drinking, and she said, ‘Oh, can I say the blessing?  God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.  Good-night, everybody.’  She went back upstairs.  It was quiet.  Then somebody said ‘Oh, my land, it’s time to go, we’ve got to be going.’  And someone else said, ‘We’ve stayed way too long.’  Within two minutes the room was empty.”

     Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad began cleaning up, picking up crumpled napkins and wasted and spilled peanuts and half sandwiches, and taking empty glasses on trays to the kitchen.  And with two trays, he and she met on either side of the sink, they looked at each other, and he expressed what both were thinking: “Where do we think we’re going?”

     The moment of truth.

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Isaiah 11:6b  —  …A little child will lead them.

Matthew 18:1-5  —  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Mark 10:13-15  —  People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

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Almighty God, give me grace to trust to Thy never-failing care and love those who are dear to me, for this life and the life to come; knowing that Thou art doing for them better things than I can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Charles Lewis Slattery  (1867-1930), Episcopal Bishop, Boston

1389) Important

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By Fred Craddock (1928-2015), Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 2001, Chalice Press, pages 132.

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     The young woman, twenty-eight years old, at St. Mark’s church in Atlanta, said to me, “This is the first time I was ever in a church.”

     “Really?” I said.

     “Yeah.”

     “Well,” I said, “How was it?”

     She said, “Kind of scary.”

     I said, “Kind of scary?”

     She said, “Yeah.”

     “Why?”

     And she said, “It just seems so important.”  She said, “You know, I never go to anything important.  This just seemed so important.”

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Hebrews 12:28-29  —  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Deuteronomy 32:46-47a  —  (Moses) said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you— they are your life.”

Hebrews 2:1  —  We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Hebrews 10:24-25  —  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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PRAYER FOR SUNDAY MORNING:

O God, our Father, we thank Thee for everything which brings us closer to Thee.

We thank Thee for Thy book, to tell us of Thy dealings with Thy people, and to set before us the deeds and words of our blessed Lord in the days of His flesh.

We thank Thee for the music and the poetry of the Psalms and the hymns we sing, and for all the memories they awaken.

We thank Thee for the open door of prayer which no one can ever shut.

We thank Thee for this day with its call to lay aside the things of earth and to enter into Thy house.

We thank Thee for the preaching of Thy word, to comfort our hearts and to enlighten our minds.

We thank Thee for the sacraments of Thy grace to be the channels of Thy divine love.

Open our hearts and minds today, that in it and its worship we may receive the precious things which Thou are waiting to give; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–William Barclay, The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers, 1959, page 90.

1388) What are You Carrying Around?

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By Fred Craddock (1928-2015), Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 2001, Chalice Press, pages 101-102.

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     I remember the first time I went to a minister to talk about something personal; it was tough as toenails.  It was hard to go and talk to a minister.

     I had been baptized about two years.  Some fellows that I worked with in a box factory went uptown to get a hot dog or a hamburger for lunch. We had an hour for lunch.  I still had on my nail apron, and they had on their nail aprons; we drove nails to make these boxes.  We passed a blind man on the sidewalk with his guitar, a sign that said “I’m blind.  Please help me,” and a tin cup taped to the neck of his guitar.  It suddenly occurred to the three of us to play a trick.  Each of us took some nails from our nail aprons and dropped them in his tin cup, noisily, and he said, “Thank you, thank you very much.  May God bless you.  Thank you very much.”

     That began to eat at me; of all of the ugly, terrible things to do.  Well, I couldn’t get rid of it, so finally I did what some people do only in desperation; I talked to the minister.  I went to the minister and told him what I had done, and he sat up at his desk and said, “Are you aware that this country is in the biggest war of our history?”  It was World War II, the last year of it.  “People are dying by the hundreds every day; soldiers have been away from their families for years.  We don’t know how this whole thing is going to turn out, and people are dying and starving.  And you are worried about nails in a blind man’s cup?”  He let me go.

     My little problem was swallowed up in the problems of the world.  But it wouldn’t go away for me.  Finally, I went to the youth minister, Mignonne.  We didn’t pay her, but she was a minister.  I told her what I had done, and she told me that was a terrible, terrible thing to do.  She felt bad, like I felt bad, and she said, “God forgives you for that, but why don’t you next week when you have your lunch hour, why don’t you go to that same blind man and tell hint what you did and ask him to forgive you, and then if you have a nickel or a dime or a quarter, give it to him.”  

     I did, and that poor man forgave me, and he smiled and said, “I know how it is.  Lot of boys are full of mischief, aren’t they?”  He forgave me.  I had been baptized already, and I was carrying that around.

     Now that may not seem big to you, but think about what you’re carrying around right now.  Would you like to get rid of it?

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Psalm 38:18b  —  …I am troubled by my sin.

Psalm 30:10  —  Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.

Luke 18:37-38  —  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Psalm 32:1-5  —  Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Hebrews 10:22  —  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

John 8:11b  —  Jesus said unto her, “…Go and sin no more.”

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Merciful God, I confess to you now that I have sinned.
I confess the sins that no one knows and the sins that everyone knows.
I confess the sins that are a burden to me and the sins that do not bother me because I have grown used to them.
Father, forgive me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1387) This is Your Life (before you were born)

“LIFE IN THE WOMB  (nine months in four minutes)”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K7kaw40pPYw&feature=youtu.be&t=14s

Also:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OD1gW88Lm-Y

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PSALM 139:1-6…13-18…23-24:

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain…

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you…

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

1386) Instilling Hope

 

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Rosalynd Harris

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jason

Jason White

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Three men from West Texas walk into a Washington, D. C. restaurant Monday morning, before going home after attending the Trump inauguration.  They are waited on by a young African-American woman who had been in the Women’s March protesting the Trump presidency…  This doesn’t sound like the beginning of a heart-warming ‘feel-good’ story, but that is what it turned out to be, as reported in this article by Colby Itkowitz in the Washington Post, January 25, 2017.

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     When Jason White walked into Busboys and Poets Monday morning, a Washington restaurant that promotes social justice, he looked around and told his friend he might want to remove his red “Make America Great Again” cap.

     The three white Texan men knew they stuck out in a place where African-American art and images cover the walls.  And White said he could sense when his waitress greeted them that she knew they did too.

     But Rosalynd Harris had arrived at work that morning still high off the energy from the Women’s March.  Her customers Saturday had been abuzz with an optimism that was contagious.

     So she was especially cheery when she greeted White and his two friends.  They chatted warmly.  They told her they were from West Texas.  White is a dentist and he complimented her on her smile.  They were jovial and fun.

     Harris admits that White was right.  She did prejudge them, by instantly assuming they were in town for President Trump’s inauguration by appearance alone, even though by that point the signature red baseball cap at been tucked away.

     When the men finished their meals, White decided to leave Harris, a 25-year-old African American woman, a personal message on the receipt.  Then, after he wrote it, he left a $450 tip on their $72.60 bill, which is a nearly 625 percent tip.

     “We may come from different cultures and may disagree on certain issues, but if everyone would share their smile and kindness like your beautiful smile, our country will come together as one people,” the note reads.  “Not race.  Not gender.  Just American.”  Then he added, “God Bless!”

     The $450 was a nod to Trump, the 45th president, White said in an interview, as a symbolic gesture that he hoped everyone could move forward together.

     White, 37, didn’t even tell his friends what he’d done.  But he’d felt so moved by all he’d seen in Washington that weekend.  A Trump supporter from the very beginning, he said that he believed Trump would infuse the government with new leadership and a new mindset.  A devout Christian, he doesn’t agree with all of Trump’s rhetoric, but said he believes that the president sometimes speaks without thinking first.

     Being in Washington for Trump’s inauguration and then witnessing the Women’s March the next day, White felt both events represented the very foundation of what it means to be an American.  On Saturday he and his friends went to Arlington Cemetery and he said he was so moved watching the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, thinking about how they perform the same 21-step tradition regardless of politics or who the president is.

     “We have to think about being better Americans, we have to look into ourselves and how we treat one another,” he said.  “If everyone did a little something to show respect… we can love one another.”

     The men were gone before Harris saw the receipt.  She read White’s words before she saw the tip, and the words alone were enough to overwhelm her.

     “You automatically assume if someone supports Trump that they have ideas about you,” she said, “but [this customer was] more embracing than even some of my more liberal friends, and there was a real authenticity in our exchange.”

     The windfall also came at a time when Harris could really use it, she said.  A professional dancer, she started waitressing about a year-and-a-half ago to make extra money to pay her bills.  She needs to move to a new apartment soon and has worried about how she’ll have enough cash to pay any upfront costs.  She scheduled herself to work extra shifts to ensure she had enough, and the extra $450 is “a huge weight off my shoulders,” she said.

     But she said the men left her with so much more.  Their words were a reminder not to make assumptions.  And that so many Americans want unity, regardless of their politics, and to not be afraid to connect with someone as human beings, she said.

     “This definitely reshaped my perspective.  Republican, Democrat, liberal are all subcategories to what we are experiencing,” she said.  “It instills a lot of hope.”

     For White, he said he wanted to show her that they probably have more in common than it would appear.

     “As I sat there I thought about the entire weekend and I thought I don’t know her, she doesn’t know me, but if most Americans have a preconceived perception about people then we’re never going to get better,” he said.

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Galatians 5:22-23a  —  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control.

Colossians 3:12-15  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

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

Ephesians 4:1a-6  —  I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

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Teach me to be kind, O Lord.  Help me to remember that everyone I meet is fighting a hard battle.  Amen.

–Prayer based on words attributed to Plato, Philo, Socrates, Ian MacLaren and others

1385) The Prodigal Genius

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Self-portrait, (1657)  Rembrandt

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From 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World, by William J. Peterson and Randy Petersen, published by Fleming H. Revell, 2001, pages 59-60.

     The greatest Dutch master of the seventeenth century and one of the greatest artists of all time was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669).  Known for his portraits, he also loved to paint biblical characters involved with emotional situations.  Two of his early paintings were The Martyrdom of St. Stephen and Pilate Washing His Hands.

     But his biographers describe him as a proud, vain man in his young life.  An early painting shows him drunk in a brothel, with sexually greedy eyes.  Like the prodigal son, Rembrandt sought money and fame, trying to impress the rich and famous.  His paintings were filled with extravagant costumes and apparently his wardrobe was too.

     Then misfortunes struck, one after another.  Both of his parents died before Rembrandt was thirty-five, and three of his children died in infancy.  The most painful blow came when he was at the peak of his fame in 1642.  Shortly after his son Titus was born, his beloved wife, Saskia, died from complications in childbirth.  Criticism from the church caused him to give up religion.  His friends deserted him, and an economic recession dried up the market for his paintings.  To pay bills and avoid bankruptcy, he eventually auctioned off many of his works for a ridiculously small sum.

     Rembrandt’s only hope and joy was his son, Titus.  With pride he watched the boy grow into manhood.  His paintings from that era include Portrait of Titus Reading, Portrait of Titus in a Hat, and Portrait of Titus Dressed as a Monk.  One of Rembrandt’s biblical paintings at this time was Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph; undoubtedly it was his prayer that Titus would have children that he could bless.

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Titus at His Desk (1655)

     When Titus married and had a daughter, Titia, joy came again to Rembrandt, joy that he had not experienced since before his wife had died.  But then tragedy struck again when Titus unexpectedly died.  Rembrandt went into depression, living on bread and cheese and rarely leaving his home.  His isolation was finally broken when he received word that Titia was going to be baptized.  He attended with tears flowing down his cheeks.  The emotional scene is reflected in one of Rembrandt’s last paintings, Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple (1669).  As you view the painting, you can almost hear Simeon (and Rembrandt) saying the words, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29) as he held the child in his arms.

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     But how could Rembrandt express all the emotions that swirled within?  What Bible story would do it best?  The artist turned to the parable of the prodigal son, a story that had always been a favorite of his.  The Return of the Prodigal Son (1669) reflects the complex emotion that swirled in Rembrandt’s life.  You see him as a father who wished he could embrace his son, Titus, one more time.  But you also see Rembrandt himself as the humbled prodigal at the end of his life, now longing for the warm embrace of his heavenly Father.  He had been stripped of everything, and now all that was left was the sublime simplicity of his Father’s love.

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     Without question, Rembrandt’s realism changed the art world.  But even apart from the world of art his influence was profound.  Because he found in Christ’s life and parables the subject matter that stirred his emotions, he was able to put on canvas a unique dimension of scriptural truth for all the world to experience.

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Luke 2:29 (KJV)  —   Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.

Luke 15:20  —  (Jesus said), “So he (the prodigal son) got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Psalm 40:1-3a  —  I waited patiently for the Lordhe turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

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“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

Luke 15:21b, The confession of the prodigal

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Head of Christ (c. 1648-1650), Rembrandt

1384) Have You Seen the Light? (c)

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     (…continued)  I once knew a lady who, right at the end of her life, ‘saw the light.’  Doris left the little town where I was a pastor fifty years before I arrived.  She moved out to California to make lots of money and live an exciting life, and that’s what she did— for fifty years.  Her mother, Helen, who I visited with monthly communion, was in failing health.  Doris, a widow now, was coming back home to care for her old mother until she died.  Helen told me that Doris might bring her to church once in a while, and she might not; but either way, Doris would not be going to church herself because she didn’t go to church all the while she was in California.  Church was not a part of her exciting life.

     I did not see either one for a while, but then one Sunday there was Helen, and also Doris, who sat through the whole service with her mother.  The next Sunday, they were both there again; and every Sunday from then on.  Then Doris said she wanted to join the church.  I said, “That is great, Doris, but tell me about this– all these years of never going to church, and now, you never miss.  What happened?”

     “Well,” Doris said, “it was something you said that first Sunday I brought Mom to church.  The rest of the sermon wasn’t all that good, but one line got me thinking.  You said that many people make careful preparations for their retirement, which they may not even get to enjoy; and they make no preparations for the rest of eternity, which they will most certainly face.”  Doris said, “That’s me.  I am all set for a very comfortable retirement, but I haven’t given a bit of thought to what comes next.  I thought it was time I start paying attention.  I want what Jesus has to offer, and I want to have Jesus in my life.”

     “Praise the Lord, she saw the light… Jesus came to her, and she let her dear Savior in.” 

     Not long after that, Doris’s comfortable retirement was ended by a sudden, fatal heart attack.  She died even before her old mother, and she was off to what was next; which for her, was now that place where there is “no more darkness, no more night, and no sorrow in sight.”  Praise the Lord!

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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.”

Psalm 85:8a  —  I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants…

Acts 3:19  —  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

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.

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1383) Have You Seen the Light? (b)

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The Light of the World, 1854, William Holman Hunt, English painter  (1827-1910)

Jesus, bringing light, preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door (Revelation 3:20).

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     (…continued)  Matthew 4:16 tells us what it means to walk in this darkness.  The last half of the verse refers to those living in ‘the land of the shadow of death,’ and that is, of course, all of us.  Death is an ever-present threat, so we are all, always, living in its shadow.  We grieve the loss of those we have loved, we worry over the living, and we live with the knowledge that any day could be our last.  And it’s not only people that die.  Hopes and dreams also die, as the once bright future gradually grinds along into the distant past; and so much always remains unfulfilled, and so many plans end in disappointment.  Not only that, but relationships die and hearts are broken.  And even in those times when everything works out wonderfully, and the all dreams do come true, and relationships do work out, it is only for a little while, and then, as my mother used to say, “All good things must come to an end.”  We would be playing outside at the end of a perfect summer day, and even though we knew it was late and getting dark, we would not like to hear her say, “Time to come in now.”  As we walked into the house grumbling, she would say it every time, “All good things must come to an end.”  We got kind of tired of hearing it, but it was, and still is, the truth.  Good times end, hopes fizzle out, relationships fail, people die; and so we all know very well what the Bible means when it talks about walking in darkness and living in the land of the shadow of death. 

     But when you see the light of Jesus, your eyes are opened to his promise that, “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live;” so as Paul wrote, “We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).  That truth changes everything.

     There is another kind of darkness.  Hank Williams referred to this darkness when he began the song with, “I wandered so aimless, my life filled with sin.”  I John 1 says:  “This is the message we heard from Jesus and declare to you; God is light, in him there is no darkness.  If we claim to be with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we confess our sins, and walk in the light, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”  Hank Williams put it like this: “I was a fool to wander and stray, straight is the gate and narrow the way, but now I have traded the wrong for the right; Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”

     God did not give his commandments to pester us with busy work.  Rather, these commands simply teach us how to best live the life God has given to us, in this world that He has created for us.  He ought to know what works.  So when we sin and disobey God’s commands, we end up in the darkness of guilt and regret, of conflict and broken relationships and troubled communities, and in the darkness of fear and anxiety.  And this darkness comes not only from our own sins, but we are also hurt by the sins of others.  We are all familiar with the darkness of sin.  But when we see the light of Jesus, and obey his commands, life can be built on the solid foundation of his Word.

     There is still another kind of darkness, and this is the darkness of ingratitude, of being blind to all the wonders of God’s good creation.  It is the darkness of an ongoing bad attitude, focusing only on everything that is wrong in the world and in your life.  In every life there is plenty of evil, wickedness, troubles, bad luck, and frustration; and there are those who get way more than their share of such afflictions.  But no matter who you are, if that is all you see, you are in the darkness; you are blind to so many blessings, so much good, and so many promises.  You have got to pray that you, as the song says, can be “like the blind man that God gave back his sight.”  We all know people who have been clobbered around by life more than most, but they still find all kinds of reasons to thank and praise God and have a smile on their face.  That’s a powerful witness.  Seeing the light of Jesus means seeing and being grateful for the many ways he has blessed you.

     Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”  In John 8:12, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Seeing the light of Jesus, then, means:  #1) being grateful for this life and all that is in it; #2) having the desire live how God wants you to live this life he has given you; and, #3) taking comfort in seeing this life in the context of God’s promise of eternal life.  (continued…)

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Matthew 4:16  —  The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

John 8:12  —  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Revelation 22:5  —   There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign for ever and ever.

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1382) Have You Seen the Light? (a)

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Hank Williams, Sr. and Hank Williams, Jr.  (approx. 1950)

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     Seventy  years ago this week, Hank Williams, Sr. wrote the song “I Saw the Light.”  Earlier in the month, the 23-year old Williams and his band were returning to Montgomery, Alabama from a show in Fort Deposit, a little town 30 miles south of Montgomery.  Williams, however, was unable to stay awake for the short drive because he was passed out drunk, as usual after shows, in the back seat of the car.  As they were approaching the city, the driver, seeing the lights of the airport, announced to the band that they were almost home, saying, “I just saw the lights.”  Hank woke up, and a light must have went off in his mind, because a few days later he wrote what has become a Country and Gospel music classic.

     Just a few months before this, Williams auditioned for, and was rejected by, the Grand Ole Opry.  Just a few months later, he was a big star, signed a recording contract with MGM, and started turning out hit after hit—35 top ten singles in the next six years.  And then Hank Williams died, on New Year’s Day, 1953, at the age of 29, in the back seat of a car on the way to a concert.

     Williams was born with a spinal defect, made worse over the years by falling and fighting.  He lived with constant pain, became addicted to pain killers which he used to excess, and then to alcohol.  The continuous overuse of both, often consumed together, destroyed his heart.

     Williams was to perform that New Year’s Day in Canton, Ohio with several others.  The concert hall was already filled, when the other performers received word of Williams’ death.  It was announced it to the crowd, and many people started to laugh, thinking it was a joke.  But then the band softly started to play a song as a tribute.  The crowd quieted, realizing it was not a joke; and then began to sing along to “I Saw the Light.”

     The song is the testimony of a backslider, living in the hope of repentance, redemption, and a chance to start over.  Hank Williams did a lot of backsliding in his short life.  One might even say he was backsliding all the while.  He was raised in the Baptist church where his mother was the organist, but as an adult he did not talk about his faith, and gave little evidence of trying to live it.  But he sure could sing about the power of faith in Jesus, as he did in this wonderful song.  Whether he was expressing what was in his heart, or just writing words he thought might be popular enough to be another hit, only God knows.

     Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”   “I Saw the Light” begins with these words: “I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin, I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in; then Jesus came like a stranger in the night, Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”  Then in the refrain, Williams sings: “No more darkness, no more night… no sorrow in sight, I saw the light.”  That sounds a lot like Matthew 4:16 (which is quoting a prophecy in Isaiah 9:2).

     There are several more Bible references in the short song.  First, there is the part about Jesus coming as a stranger in the night.  The Bible actually says ‘thief in the night,’ and that you will find in Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 5.  In Revelation 22 we find the phrase “there will be no more night.”  In verse two, Williams sings about how he was, “Just like the blind man that God gave back his sight, praise the Lord, I saw the light.”  That’s in John chapter nine.  In the last verse there is a reference to the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 when it says “straight is the gate and narrow the way.”  And the main reference to the image of light that is used in the song is in John 8:12, where Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  That’s eight Bible references in three verses—not bad for a backslider.  Williams spent much of his life in the darkness, not only with his drug and alcohol abuse, but also because of his lying, infidelity, irresponsibility, lack of loyalty, lack of faith, arrogance, and quick temper.  But it is clear he did know his Bible and he did know about Jesus.  We can only hope that somewhere along the line he really did what he sang about in verse one, and “let his dear Savior in.”

     Have seen the light?  Do you know what it means to walk in darkness, and to live in the land of the shadow of death?  Do you know what that is like?  And if so, are you familiar with the experience described by Matthew to have seen a great light, or, to have the light dawn in your life?  Do you know what that is like?  What is this darkness?  What is this light?  And what does it look like in one’s life?  What does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world?  (continued…)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtolv9kM1qk

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)