1381) Young Ben Franklin Learns a Lesson

By Nathaniel Hawthorne, American author (1804-1864); based on a paragraph from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

     When Benjamin Franklin was a boy he was very fond of fishing; and many of his leisure hours were spent on the margin of the mill pond catching flounders, perch, and eels that came up thither with the tide.

     The place where Ben and his playmates did most of their fishing was a marshy spot on the outskirts of Boston.  On the edge of the water there was a deep bed of clay, in which the boys were forced to stand while they caught their fish.

     “This is very uncomfortable,” said Ben Franklin one day to his comrades, while they were standing in the quagmire.

     “So it is,” said the other boys.  “What a pity we have no better place to stand on!”

     On the dry land, not far from the quagmire, there were at that time a great many large stones that had been brought there to be used in building the foundation of a new house.  Ben mounted upon the highest of these stones.

     “Boys,” said he, “I have thought of a plan.  You know what a plague it is to have to stand in the quagmire yonder.  See, I am bedaubed to the knees, and you are all in the same plight.

     “Now I propose that we build a wharf.  You see these stones?  The workmen mean to use them for building a house here.  My plan is to take these same stones, carry them to the edge of the water, and build a wharf with them.  What say you, lads?  Shall we build the wharf?”

     “Yes, yes,” cried the boys; “let’s set about it!”

     It was agreed that they should all be on the spot that evening, and begin their grand public enterprise by moonlight.

     Accordingly, at the appointed time, the boys met and eagerly began to remove the stones.  They worked like a colony of ants, sometimes two or three of them taking hold of one stone; and at last they had carried them all away, and built their little wharf.

     “Now, boys,” cried Ben, when the job was done, “let’s give three cheers, and go home to bed.  To-morrow we may catch fish at our ease.”

     “Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!” shouted his comrades, and all scampered off home and to bed, to dream of tomorrow’s sport.

     In the morning the masons came to begin their work.  But what was their surprise to find the stones all gone!  The master mason, looking carefully on the ground, saw the tracks of many little feet, some with shoes and some barefoot.  Following these to the water side, he soon found what had become of the missing building stones.

     “Ah! I see what the mischief is,” said he; “those little rascals who were here yesterday have stolen the stones to build a wharf with.  And I must say that they understand their business well.”

     He was so angry that he at once went to make a complaint before the magistrate; and his Honor wrote an order to “take the bodies of Benjamin Franklin, and other evil-disposed persons,” who had stolen a heap of stones.

     If the owner of the stolen property had not been more merciful than the master mason, it might have gone hard with our friend Benjamin and his comrades.  But, luckily for them, the gentleman had a respect for Ben’s father, and, moreover, was pleased with the spirit of the whole affair.  He therefore let the culprits off easily.

     But the poor boys had to go through another trial, and receive sentence, and suffer punishment, too, from their own fathers.  Many a rod was worn to the stump on that unlucky night.  As for Ben, he was less afraid of a whipping than of his father’s reproof.  And, indeed, his father was very much disturbed.

     “Benjamin, come hither,” began Mr. Franklin in his usual stern and weighty tone.  The boy approached and stood before his father’s chair.  “Benjamin,” said his father, “what could induce you to take property which did not belong to you?”

     “Why, father,” replied Ben, hanging his head at first, but then lifting his eyes to Mr. Franklin’s face, “if it had been merely for my own benefit, I never should have dreamed of it.  But I knew that the wharf would be a public convenience.  If the owner of the stones should build a house with them, nobody would enjoy any advantage but himself.  Now, I made use of them in a way that was for the advantage of many persons.”

     “My son,” said Mr. Franklin solemnly, “so far as it was in your power, you have done a greater harm to the public than to the owner of the stones.  I do verily believe, Benjamin, that almost all the public and private misery of mankind arises from a neglect of this great truth,—that evil can produce only evil, that good ends must be wrought out by good means.”

     To the end of his life, Ben Franklin never forgot this conversation with his father; and we have reason to suppose, that, in most of his public and private career, he sought to act upon the principles which that good and wise man then taught him.

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Ben Franklin:

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Isaiah 5:20-21  —  Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

Deuteronomy 5:19  —  Do not steal.  Do not lie.  Do not deceive one another.

Deuteronomy 5:16a  —  Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you.

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Almighty God, rule our lives by your power that we may be truthful in thought and word and deed.  May no fear or hope ever make us false in act or speech; cast out from us whatever makes or loves a lie, and bring us all into the perfect freedom of your truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Brooke Westcott, Bishop or Durham  (1825-1901)

1380) Inauguration Day Wisdom

The Lincoln Inaugural Bible, 1861

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Today Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the 45th President of the United States.  He has chosen to use for the oath the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used in his first inauguration 156 years ago.  The nation was then, as it is now, very divided.  In his first inaugural address, Lincoln spoke to a nation on the verge of civil war, pleading for peace and reconciliation.  Four years later, near the end of the Civil War, Lincoln called on the nation to work for healing and and a ‘just and lasting peace.’  Today’s meditation includes the closing paragraph of each of Lincoln’s inaugural speeches.  These words should be taken to heart by everyone, politicians and citizens, on both sides of our great political and cultural divide.

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March 4, 1861:

We are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies.  Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.  The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

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March 4, 1865:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

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Ephesians 4:31  —  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Luke 6:27b-28  —  (Jesus said), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Matthew 5:9  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

James 3:16-18  —  Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

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

I Timothy 2:1-4  —  First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:  We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace.  Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.  Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

 –Book of Common Prayer

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace:  Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

–Book of Common Prayer

1379) No Complaints

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From Your New Money Mindset, by Brad Hewitt and James Moline, 2015, Tyndale House Publishers.

     My Grandpa Colby was a young teen when he was summoned to a neighbor’s farm to help milk a less-than-cooperative cow.  Apparently the farmer was off on a drinking binge and had abandoned the cow for days.  She was miserably full of milk and unwilling to let anyone touch her.

     As Colby arrived at the barn and moved toward the unhappy cow, he must have sensed her tension.  He talked to her as he approached and grabbed the milking stool.  But when he knelt down to milk the cow, she lurched forward and kicked him in the leg, opening a deep gash.  His torn flesh bled severely.

     There were no modern ambulances or helicopters to come to his rescue, so getting him to medical attention took precious time– lost time that allowed his young muscles to die from lack of blood.  In the end, in order to save his life, his leg had to be amputated.

     Colby had ventured down the road toward a neighbor’s farm to perform an act of kindness, not realizing his life would change forever.  As I grew up and more fully understood my Grandpa Colby, what struck me was that he wasn’t in the least consumed by his past.  I never even heard him tell his story firsthand; I had to piece it together from family recollections.  He never thought it necessary to tell me how he felt about losing his leg.  The grandpa I grew to know could have been bitter about the drunken farmer, and the call to take responsibility for someone else’s animal.  Yet he never complained about his bad fortune or the fact that the situation left him without a leg.  Instead he stayed focused on the future and the abundance of good things he could do– like catch fish with his grand-kids and beat me at checkers!

     Having the use of two healthy legs is surely a “possession” many of us believe is necessary to enjoy a full, happy, and large life.  This was especially true in the community where Grandpa Colby lived, where being able bodied was essential to earning a livelihood.  But Grandpa Colby simply found a way, as many people do, of living well without the benefit of the full body he was given at birth.  He finished school and became a successful banker and family man.  He was at peace.  He was content, regardless of circumstances.

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Philippians 3:13b-14  —  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.

Proverbs 23:18-19  —  There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.  Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path.

Jeremiah 29:11  —  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Ephesians 2:14  —  Do everything without grumbling or arguing.

Ephesians 4:31-32  —  Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

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

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Almighty God, Lord of the storm and of the calm, of day and night, of life and death; grant unto us so to have our hearts stayed upon your faithfulness and your love, so that whatever happens to us, however black the cloud or dark the night, with quiet faith we may trust in you and walk with you; abiding all storms and troubles of this mortal life, begging of you that they may turn to our souls’ true good.  Amen.

–George Dawson (1821-1876) English Baptist minister

1378) One Way God Speaks

By Daniel Ritchie, posted January 16, 2017 at:

http://www.desiringgod.org

Ritchie is the student pastor at Lake Norman Baptist Church in Huntersville, North Carolina.  He is a husband and father of two.

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     I was born without arms.

     That is the best way to summarize my story.  I stepped into suffering at birth.  My physical body is a billboard for my pain.  This has brought mocking, cruel jokes, stares, and the constant feeling that I am not like anyone else that I meet.

     I have never been able to hide.  Many people can bury their pain, but my heartache is written all over my two empty sleeves.  Those sleeves tell a story without my mouth ever saying a word.  My pain almost swallowed me.  But Christ showed me how much greater he was than my empty sleeves.

     I used to think that being born without arms was the most horrible thing that could happen to a person.  Christ has helped me say that the worst and most painful thing that has ever happened to me is also the best thing that has ever happened to me.

     I am thankful for my pain.  All of the frustration that has come with it has reaped a bounty that I never could have produced on my own.  God stepped in and carried me along in my weakness, letting me taste his strength, grace, and love in new ways.

God’s Megaphone

     I have always been drawn to C.S. Lewis and his perspective on pain.  Lewis lost his mother at an early age, saw his dad emotionally abandon him, suffered from a respiratory illness as a teenager, fought and was wounded in World War I, and finally had to bury his beloved wife.  Lewis wrote about his heartache in his book The Problem of Pain, in which he penned one of his most famous lines:

Pain insists upon being attended to.  God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

     We are most keenly aware of God’s character in our suffering.  It is when our self-sufficiency is peeled away that we see how weak we really are.  It is in that moment of weakness that, as God tells Paul in II Corinthians 12:9, “my power is made perfect in weakness.”  It is in our pain that God has us taste his power most intimately.

     I see the reality of Lewis’s statement clearly in my own life.  God has shouted to me through my pain and reminded me of his truth.  As the mocking words of men fell on my heart like an avalanche, God showed me that it is only his words that bring life (Psalm 119:25).  It was in my brokenness that I saw God’s true strength as he carried me along.  God used my hurt so that he could clearly write the lessons of his grace on my heart and set my affections on him (Psalm 119:67).  

Using God’s Megaphone to Speak to a Dying World

     One of the most interesting realities of suffering is that our personal pain also speaks to those around us.  Our pain becomes God’s megaphone to a watching world.  The world gravitates to the cancer patient who has hope and peace.  Bystanders are astounded over the parents who cling to their heavenly Father as they bury their own child.  My friends are taken back when I can shrug off hateful words of my disability and turn my focus to what God says about me.

     Our pain gives us a platform.  The question becomes then, what am I saying to the world in the midst of my pain?  Do I let my faith become the product of my circumstances or is God still good even if my circumstances are not?  As I trust God, even in my heartache, I let my life speak of a hope that extends well beyond what we can see or touch.

Rejoice in Trials

     We have the difficult call of I Peter 1:6-7 where we are commanded to rejoice when we are grieved by various trials.  Why are we rejoicing?  “So that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  Our willingness to suffer joyfully for the glory of God carries a testimony that none of us could ever express.  We point to a glorious God who offers treasure that neither moth nor rust can destroy (Matthew 6:19-20).

     As we suffer and trust, we receive unique comfort from the Father.  In our pain, we know God is still reigning, whether we taste comfort or affliction.  As Paul says in II Corinthians 1:3-6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.  If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

     Christ comforts us so that we might share his comfort with a hurting world.  His grace to us is meant to be displayed and not hidden by our silence.  As our pain shouts to a hurting world, may our lives always sing of the fact that God is glorious even when our circumstances are not.

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

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

1377) Sunday’s Sermon by Bono and Me (b)

          (…continued)  I realized that the key is in seeing our desires on two levels.  There are day to day desires and needs, and there are eternal desires and needs.  There are many concerns on the surface of life; and those are important and need to be tended to.  But there are also those deeper concerns that are always there, no matter how good or bad things are on the surface. 

            For example, I believe in Jesus as my Savior, and therefore I believe that even if were to I die today, I would be all right because the promises of Jesus are forever.  There was a time, many years ago, I did not know what to believe about life and death, and I was looking for something to believe in.  For many good reasons, I decided to believe in Jesus as the way and the truth and the life, so I am not looking anymore.  I found in Jesus what is true and what I need.  I have already looked at the other options and now, I’m all in with Jesus.  On that level, I have found what I am looking for.

            However, on another level, I am still looking for many things.  If a month ago right now you would have asked me if I had found everything I was looking for, I would have said “No!” because I was desperately looking for someone to fix my water heater at home.  So, that led to some frustration, because I couldn’t find what I was looking for— on that other level. 

            But one wrong move on the highway, and an ambulance ride to the intensive care unit of a hospital, and I would have forgotten all about that water heater.  But I would still be holding on to and taking comfort in that deeper hope.  We’re always going back and forth like that, between the smaller and larger concerns of life.

            I don’t know if Bono had any of that in mind when he wrote those lyrics, but the life of faith is always a challenge.  The song is not only about spiritual seeking and finding, but it is also about the ongoing struggle of faith. 

            I am reminded of that story in Mark chapter nine where a desperate father asks Jesus to heal his troubled son, saying to Jesus, “If you can do anything, help us.”  Jesus replies, “What do you mean if?  Everything is possible for one who believes.”  And the man says, “Lord, I do believe; but help me overcome my unbelief.”  Belief and unbelief are there, in the same person, at the same time.  Isn’t that how it always is?  And the U2 song brilliantly reflects the same struggle, describing a believer who is declaring his faith; but one who is still searching, still wondering, still trying to figure it out, and still looking for more– of something.

            Keep in mind those two levels of need.  Deep down, those who believe in Jesus can indeed possess that ‘peace that passes all understanding.’  But on the surface, we still might be looking for more– a stronger faith, the strength to do the right thing, the ability to forgive someone at work, reconciliation with an estranged family member, a little peace and quiet once in a while, a day off, victory over temptation, a good report from the doctor, a visit from the son just down the street who hasn’t stopped in for weeks, or, a call back from the water heater repairman.  There are many different things we are still ‘looking for’ and have not found.

            Now, of course, we have to be careful.  We do have a tendency to want too much and expect too much on that surface level.  There is no need to be always unhappy about the normal day to day frustrations.  That’s life.  And the desire for a more secure income can become endless and impossible to satisfy.  And the quest for good health can become an obsession, and we are all, one day, going to die of something.  And no two people are always on the same page, so a part of life is learning to live with the differences.  And the Bible does say life is a test, and in this world you will have trouble, and God may not want to answer all your prayers and take away all your afflictions, because it is by those afflictions that we grow stronger in our faith and are reminded of our need for God.  So the Bible teaches us to be content, troubles and all.

            The Bible, in fact, teaches us how to live on both levels.  For those concerns on the surface, II Timothy says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out.  If you have food and clothing be content with that.”  The Bible also warns us about wearing ourselves out seeking that which does not satisfy.

            The Bible has even more to say about our hope and confidence on that deeper level.  Romans 14:8 says, “Whether we live or die we belong to the Lord.”  Philippians 1:21 says, “To live is to be in Christ, and then to die is gain.”  The 23rd Psalm says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou are with me… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  Everything, even life itself, can be taken away, and we are still all right.

            Last Fall several of us gathered here for a few Thursday evenings to learn about Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, especially in the Middle-East.  You have seen these people on the news; Christians being targeted for their faith, driven from their homes, or killed by radical Muslim fanatics.  In the class we read a book and watched several video segments about these people.  We were amazed by the faith, persistence, forgiveness, strength, and joy of these people.  On the surface, they were lacking everything.  If you would have asked them what they were looking for, they could have told you they were looking for peace, safety, a way to feed their families that day, a place to sleep that night, a chance to go home again, and many were looking for missing loved ones.  They had lost so much.  And yet, deep down they were all right.  They were smiling and thanking God for the hope they had within them, for whatever meager blessings they did receive each day, and for the love of and presence of Jesus.  Deep down, they indeed had that ‘peace that passes all understanding.’  They were joyful because they still had what was most important.  They had Jesus and his promise of that place where there would be no more danger, no more grief, no more death or sadness or pain, anymore, for Jesus has said that he would make all things new.

            Bono wrote that song thirty years ago, so I don’t know whether or not he has finally found what he is looking for.  Actually, none of us ever get everything we are looking for.  This life always falls short, and we are always looking for something else, something better, an easier path, or, if nothing else, a little more time.  C. S. Lewis, always one with a brilliant insight into everything, turned such unfulfilled desires into a reason for faith, and even evidence there was something to hope for.  He said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

            Right!  The Bible says we were made for God and his home.  That is what we are looking for most of all. 

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1376) Sunday’s Sermon by Bono and Me (a)

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From my sermon on January 15, 2017

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     John 1:29, 32-38  —  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!…  Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.  And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’  I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

     The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.   When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

     When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

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            The Gospel of John begins with John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.  Several verses describe how John is proclaiming to the people about the One who is to come—the ‘true light of the world’ says John 1:9; the ‘Messiah’ says verse 20; the ‘chosen one of God’ says verse 34.  And then in verse 36 Jesus walks by, and John says to two of his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God.”  The next verse then tells us that when the two men who had been followers of John heard this, they decided to follow Jesus. 

            Today’s sermon will be on the next verse (v. 38) which reads: “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’”  Other translations have Jesus putting the question like this:  What seek ye? or What are you after? or What are you looking for?

            Well, no matter how you translate it, these are all good questions for a sermon.  What are you after?  What do you want?  Do you have it?  What are you looking for?  Have you found it?  And if not, when do you think you will find it?

            Thirty years ago right about now, the Irish band U2 was working on an interesting song about this very thing.  The name of the song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and it’s been praised for its unique blend of American Gospel music and Celtic soul music.  It was released in the Spring of 1987 went to the top of the charts in the United States.  Rolling Stone magazine lists it at #93 of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”  Hear and see it below on You-tube.  If you don’t catch all the words, don’t worry, I’ll fill you in on them later…

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3-5YC_oHjE

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      This song was written by U2’s lead vocalist Paul Hewson, better known by his nickname, Bono.  His friends gave him that nickname when he was a teenager.  Bono is short for ‘bonovox,’ which is Latin for ‘good voice.’  Bono is an international superstar, famous not only for his music, but also for his humanitarian work all over the world.  He is a one man world relief organization, has given tens of millions of dollars to help others, and is constantly pestering other celebrities to do the same.  Few people have done more than Bono to alleviate poverty, disease, and illiteracy in the world.  He, along with Melinda and Bill Gates were Time magazine’s ‘Persons of the Year’ in 2005 for this incredible work.

            Bono is a Christian.  And his faith is not limited to the water-down, flimsy, ‘God is nice and so we should be nice’ type of Christianity of so many celebrities.  Bono is very outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, Savior of the world, and no one else like him has ever lived; and Jesus Christ died for our sins, because we are all sinners (and not all that ‘nice,’ anyway); and we need Grace, not karma, not some vague spirituality, and not some silly inner voice.  We need Jesus, Bono says, so believe in Jesus and you will be all right, or else, you will not be all right.   Bono is not ashamed or embarrassed to talk that way, and people who interview him usually don’t know how to handle that.  That are not used to that from rock stars.  Like many big rock stars, Bono can also be an arrogant loud mouth, he swears too much on stage (at least he used to), and he has been very critical of the church, sometimes in an unfair and uninformed way.  Criticism is always needed, though sometimes his lack of perspective is annoying.  And Bono would be the first to admit he is still a sinner in need of God’s grace; but he is indeed a Christian and a good man.

            Now to the song.  It starts out like a love song, “I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields, I have crawled, I have scaled walls—only to be with you.”  So, who is ‘you’?  We don’t know yet, but it’s probably some young lady he is pursuing.  That’s what it sounds like so far, and even more so in the next verse when it talks about kissing honey lips and this burning desire. 

            But then comes something unexpected.  The following verse says, “I believe in the Kingdom come.”  Wow!  What does that sound like?  It sounds to me like the Lord’s Prayer.  And then we finally found out who the “you” is that he wants to be with.  Listen to this verse: “You broke the bonds, and you loosed the chains, you carried the cross of my shame… you know I believe it.”  Believing in the cross that breaks my bonds and takes away my shame.  It is sounding like an old Gospel hymn, which is precisely what Bono and the band said influenced the writing of this song.  He is doing everything he can, he says, only to be with Jesus.

            Now, for the confusing part.  After that verse affirming his faith in Jesus, the song goes back to the refrain again, and repeats several more times, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  What?  It sounded like he did.  He believes in the Kingdom come, and believes in the one who loosed his chains and took away his shame on the cross.  So what does he mean he still hasn’t found it? 

            A few years ago I taught a class called “Rock (and Roll) of Ages” in which I looked at what was going on spiritually in some of my old favorite rock and roll, and country songs (google ’emailmeditations rock and roll of ages,’ #290 and the  following meditations) .  I wanted to include this song, but I couldn’t make any sense out of it, so I didn’t use it.

            But this week, when I read these words from Jesus in John 1, it came to me when I asked myself, “Am I still looking for anything?”  Of course I am.  But don’t I, also, already believe in Jesus?  Yes, of course.  So what’s going on?  (continued…)

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You have made me for yourself, O Lord, and my heart is restless until I rest in you.

–St. Augustine  (354-430)

1375) “Do You Think She’ll Remember?”

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By Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, pages 126-127 (adapted).

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     Up near where I live, at Fannin County Hospital, ministers around take turns being chaplain for the week.  I took my turn, and the week I was on watch, there was a baby born.  Not many are born in that small, thirty-bed hospital.  But I went there, it was about nine o’clock in the morning, and I saw all these people gathered, looking through the glass.  There was that little bitty new baby, and it looked like a clan of people gathered around.  I said, “What is it, boy or girl?”           

     “It’s a girl.”    

     “What’s the name?”    

     “Elizabeth.”    

     “Well, is the father over here in this group?” 

     “No.”  I looked back over behind me, and leaning against the wall was a young man.

     He said,” I’m the father.”

     I said, “Baby’s name Elizabeth?”

     “Yeah.”

    “Beautiful baby,” I said.  She was screaming— you couldn’t hear through the glass— but she was crying and screaming and red faced, and all like that.  I thought maybe he might be concerned, and I said, “Now, she’s not sick.  It’s good for babies to scream and do all that.  It clears out their lungs and gets their voices going.  It’s all right.”

     He said, “Oh, I know she’s not sick.  But she is mad as hell.”  And then he said, “Pardon me, Reverend.”

     I said,”That’s all right.  Why is she mad?”

     He said, “Well, wouldn’t you be mad?  One minute you’re with God in heaven and the next minute you’re in Georgia.”

     Well!  I thought, Man, I’ve got myself a real hillbilly theologian here on my hands.  I said, “You believe she was with God before she came here?”

     He said, “Oh, yeah.”

     I said, “You think she’ll remember?”

     He said, “Well, that’s up to her mother and me.  It’s up to the church.  We’ve got to see that she remembers, ’cause if she forgets, she’s a goner.”

      That hillbilly is smart.  He knows what God expects of him as a father.

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Proverbs 22:6  —  Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.”

Psalm 78:5-7  —  (The Lord) decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Deuteronomy 4:9  —  Be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live.  Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

Luke 22:19  —  (Jesus) took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

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PARENTS’ PRAYER AFTER THE BIRTH OF A CHILD:

We thank Thee, O God our Father, for giving us this child to bring up for Thee.  Help us as true disciples to set her a good example in all we think or say or do.  Keep her well in body and mind, and grant that she may grow in grace and in the knowledge of Thy Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–From Prayers New and Old, ed. by Clement Walsh

1374) Let Them Come

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LUKE 18:15-17:

People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them.  When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.   But Jesus called the children to him and said, “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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    One of the best sermons I ever heard from one of my students was by a young woman who didn’t have a church, and no place to preach.  So she went over to Wesley Woods, a little place for elderly people with three levels of care– you know those places.  They let her have a Sunday afternoon service once a month in the sun-room.  People would wheel down there and listen to her.  She was a sprightly young woman, and she said to me, “Would you come and hear me preach and evaluate my preaching?  I want to be a good preacher, and I don’t have a church.”

     I said, “Okay, okay,” and I went one Sunday afternoon.  She read her text from Luke 18, the one about the mothers bringing the babies to Jesus; the one where Jesus says, “Permit the little children to come to me.”  I said to myself, “Good grief!  Of all the texts to read here– the average age is 117– and she reads, ‘Bring the little children’?”

     This is what she did.  She said, “I still can’t get over the fact that Jesus’ helpers, the twelve apostles– you know, ministers– said, ‘Get those children out of here.’   But in a way, I can understand this.  I mean, after all, they make noise.  They have to be cared for.  Sometimes you have to get up and leave with them.  They take everybody else’s time.  Besides that, they can’t give anything.  They can’t teach a class.  They can’t sing in the choir.  They’re just, you know, they’re a burden.  I understand that.”  She went through all that.  But then she told them that Jesus said, “Leave them alone, let them come.  Those are kingdom people.”

     And those old people just nodded– “That’s right, that’s right.”  She never mentioned elderly people, but they perceived; they got it.  And it was marvelous.

–Preaching Professor Fred Craddock, Craddock Stories, page 148.

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We commit to your care, O Lord, those who are old and full of years, and can no longer bear the burden and heat of the day.  Grant them to have so trusted and learned of you in years which are gone, that in the loss of their daily work and the world they have long known, they shall not have lost you.  Give them light at evening time, and the assurance that, by serene example, they may also serve who only stand and wait; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Willard Sperry, Dean of Harvard Divinity School,  (1882-1954)

1373) The Bad/Good King James

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     You don’t have to be an expert in English history to be familiar with the main accomplishment of a certain King James.  You probably have a book whose production was authorized by this King– the King James Version of the Bible, first published in 1611.  This may not be the version you read anymore.  It isn’t the one I usually use.  But for three and a half centuries this was the only translation used by nearly everyone in the English speaking world.  Today, there are hundreds of English translations; but for a long time, there was only one.

     One hundred years before King James, there was no Bible in English.  Bibles in England, and everywhere, were read only by scholars in the original Hebrew or Greek, or, Jerome’s Latin translation from the fifth century.  It was thought to be dangerous for the common person to be able to read the Bible, so for many years and in many places, translating the Bible into the language of the people was a crime punishable by death.

     One of the first and most important projects of all the Reformers was to do such a translation.  In the 1520’s, while in hiding from the authorities who wanted to kill him, Martin Luther translated the entire Bible into German.  At that same time, in England, William Tyndale was working on the first translation of the Bible into English.  He completed it only by successfully eluding the authorities who were always after him; and continued, for the rest of his short life, to be on the run or in hiding.  He was captured at the age of 42 and executed, but his translation had already become very popular with the common people.  Despite the threat of death to anyone who would print, transport, or sell those Bibles, everyone wanted one.  Tyndale once told a priest that if his translation was successful, the common plow boy would soon know more about the Bible than the priests.

     When Tyndale was executed in 1536, his final words were a prayer:  “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”  His prayer was answered the very next year when the king lifted the ban on English translations of the Bible.

     This new freedom led to a new and very different problem.  Now, everyone wanted to sell English Bibles in a business that had gone from being life-threatening to extremely profitable.  In the next sixty years, 130 different translations were produced, most of them hastily done and quite inaccurate.  The common people, unable to judge between translations, bought many bad ones, resulting in much confusion.

     In 1603 James became King.  Not many people thought very highly of James.  He was arrogant, selfish, drank too much, and was eager to use his new authority primarily to serve himself.  He believed strongly in the divine right of Kings, not because he was so interest in the ‘divine’ part, but because he knew that would give him the most power.

     There were many Puritans in England at this time.  These people were serious about their Christian faith, and sought to separate themselves from the cold and hypocritical state church.  The ‘official’ church opposed their every move.

     King James didn’t like the Puritans either, because they had little time for any kind of earthly authority; not of bishops or kings.  God was their king, so they granted little authority or loyalty to James.

     The Puritans went to the king early in his reign with certain requests for freedoms from the Anglican Church of England.  The Anglican bishops opposed this, and told the king that they would adopt his ‘divine right of kings’ business if he would come down hard on Puritans.  So, King James went into the negotiations with the Puritans with the intent of granting them nothing.

     But one of the Puritans’ requests intrigued the king.  For the sake of the truth and integrity of Scripture, the Puritans asked that a new and official translation of the Bible be made, done by all the best scholars, as accurate and true to the original language as possible.  James was not interested in the truth and accuracy of Scripture, but he had his own reasons for not liking all those other translations.  Not only were they carelessly done, but many came with notes to explain things to the common people who were reading these things for the first time.  And oftentimes, the king did not approve of these notes.  He was particularly irritated by explanations like the one attached to Exodus 1:17, a verse which says:  “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the King of Egypt commanded them, but allowed the baby boys to live.”  The notes attached to this verse pointed out that the midwives did the right thing by NOT obeying the king, and that Christians do not always have to obey their king either, because sometimes kings do and require things that are contrary to God’s Word.

     This did not sit well with King James was pushing for the ‘divine right of kings,’ which meant that if the king said it, it was the SAME as if God Himself said it.  So James did not like all the meddlesome side notes in these new translations.  It would be far better for the people to not understand anything.

     Thus, for very different reasons from the Puritans, King James granted their request and gave the command that “a translation of the entire Bible shall be made, as close as can be to the original, and then be printed without any marginal notes.”

     King James celebrated the beginning of the project with a huge banquet and much feasting, drinking, and dancing, along with dog and bull fighting for entertainment.  This offended the Puritans, but they would get their translation.  James was then wise enough to stay out of the way and let the project proceed with integrity and skill.  Fifty-four top translators were employed to do the work.  They were divided up into six groups of nine, each working on a section of the Bible.  The complete texts were then reviewed by still more scholars.  The first edition came off the presses in 1611.  It was an immediate and long-lasting success.

     The result was an excellent translation, not only for its accuracy (for its time), but also for its majestic language.  There were no significant challengers for over 300 years.  Only when the New International Version was published in the 1980’s did another translation begin to sell more copies.

     King James did not go on to become a nice man or a good king.  But as one historian wrote of him: “Despite his arrogance in theology, his incompetence as a king, his profanity, and his drunkenness, we can still be grateful to King James for his part in this noble work.”

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Matthew 4:4  —   Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Psalm 119:105  —  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

II Timothy 3:16-17  —  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

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Almighty, everlasting God, heavenly Father, whose Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way:  Open and enlighten my mind that I may understand your Word purely, clearly, devoutly, and then, having understood it aright, fashion my life in accord with it, in order that I may never displease you; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our dear Lord.  Amen.  

–Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558)

1372) The Big Pygmy (b)

“I Went From Fighting in a Cage to Living in a Hut”

     (…continued)  After Jesus helped me overcome my depression and addiction, my dreams for my life changed.  I wanted more than MMA fame; I wanted to serve God however I could.  I started volunteering at local ministries and prisons, sharing my story with anyone who would listen.

     I also knew I needed a break from MMA (Mixed Martial Arts fighting).  Even though I still loved the sport, the temptations were too great.  But without fighting, I didn’t know what to do with my life.  In desperation, I prayed:  God, I’m yours.  Is there anything you want me to do?  I desire to do your will, not mine.

     That’s when a strange vision flooded my head.  I watched myself weaving through the jungle.  Among the forest’s white noise, I heard the faint sound of lively music, unlike anything I’d heard before.  As I stepped into a clearing, I saw 150 people, living in a cluster of twig-and-leaf huts.

     I took a step forward, and the vision changed.  I was bombarded by flash-fast images of malnourished children and starving old men.  I saw a man dying from a disease eating him alive.  For some reason, I could tell these people were oppressed and outcasts.

     I sobbed so uncontrollably that I left a puddle of tears on my Bible.  I wondered if I was crazy, but I knew I couldn’t have imagined what I saw on my own.  I didn’t know who these people were, but I knew I had to help them.  Turning suddenly to Isaiah 58, my eyes locked onto verses 6–12 (see below), about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.  The passage started a fire in my heart.

      I shared my vision with my mentor, Caleb, and he immediately knew I was describing a Mbuti (or Pygmy) tribe in the Congo.  He told me he was leading a group there in a month with his high-risk missions ministry, Unusual Soldiers, and he encouraged me to go with him.  Our goal on this trip would be to find the most remote Mbuti villages in the jungle, form relationships with them, and learn more about their needs.

     I saw firsthand that circumstances there were graver than I had seen in my vision.  And after several months back home, I still could not shake my burden.  Caleb connected me with Shalom University, a Congolese Christian school dedicated to serving the Pygmies.  I knew I couldn’t help them unless I understood them first, so I lived with them for a year.  I slept in a twig-and-leaf hut, ate their food, and suffered from the same diseases.  One bout with malaria nearly killed me.  But no matter how tough things got, I felt more at home than I ever had in the gym.

     I was soon adopted into the Pygmy tribe and given a new name:  Eféosa Mbuti MangBO.  “Mbuti MangBO” means “The Big Pygmy,” which is appropriate, since at six foot three I tower over the average (four-foot-seven) Pygmy man.  “Eféosa” means “The Man Who Loves Us.”

     Recently, after a five-year hiatus, I returned to the MMA cage with the goal of raising money for Fight for the Forgotten, the organization I founded to help serve the Pygmies.  The drive to fight is still there, but I’m no longer fighting my inner demons.  I’m fighting to fulfill God’s call on my life.

For more about Justin Wren and Fight for the Forgotten, go to:

http://www.water4.org/fightfortheforgotten

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Justin Wren  (on the left)

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Isaiah 58:6-12:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

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O Lord, our Savior, you have said that you will require much of those to whom much is given.  Grant that we who have been so richly blessed may strive together to extend to others what we so richly enjoy, to the fulfillment of your holy will and the everlasting salvation of all; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–St. Augustine  (354-430)