1371) The Big Pygmy (a)

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Justin Wren (on the right)

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

Romans 7:24  —  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Romans 7:25  —   Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

John 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

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 CONFESSION OF SINS from the Lutheran liturgy:
Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.  Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.  Amen.

1370) Words from the Spirit

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From the Voice of the Martyrs January 2017 newsletter, (www.persecution.com)

     A pastor from an Islamic country in the Middle East recently shared the story of Shani, one of his church members.  Shani’s husband was the leader of a house church, until one day when he simply disappeared.  For three months, Shani had no idea where he was.  The authorities who had taken him had filed no charges against him, and he wasn’t allowed to see a lawyer or his family.

     Shani was left alone, worrying about her husband and about herself.  She knew her husband was strong and that his faith would endure even if he were tortured.  He would never give up names of other Christians or details about their secret gospel work.

     But Shani was afraid she wasn’t that strong.  “Dear God,” Shani prayed one night, “please don’t allow them to find me.  I can’t handle torture.  I cannot handle a jail cell.  I’m not strong like my husband.  If they torture me I’d probably give up the names of every single Christian.  I might even deny my faith completely.”  She prayed that prayer, then went to sleep.

     Shani was awakened at 6 a.m. the next morning by someone banging on her door.  When she looked out the window, she saw two police cars in front of her home.  “God!  I told you that I can’t handle arrest and torture,” she prayed.  “And this is what happens?  Whatever happens now, God, it’s your fault.”

     The police took Shani to the local jail, which was filthy and smelled like a sewer.  She had grown up in a wealthy family and had never been in a place like this.  

     In the middle of her first night in jail, the guards pulled her out of her cell and took her to an interrogation room.  The interrogator across the table from her looked very angry.

     “Why do you talk about Jesus to Muslims?” he demanded.  “Don’t you know that is illegal here?  You are not permitted to evangelize.”

     The only thing she could think to say was, ‘Dear God … Lord.”  Then she suddenly felt God’s presence and peace.

     Shani looked up at the interrogator.  “I have a right to evangelize,” she said, “and I’m happy that I’m evangelizing.  We’re supposed to evangelize.  This is a commandment from Jesus Christ.  Everyone needs to hear this Good News.  You need to hear this Good News, too.  God sent me here to tell you about Jesus.  You are a poor man.  I feel bad for you.  You don’t have peace, you don’t have joy, you don’t have hope.  You don’t even know why you are alive.  The only way to the truth is Jesus Christ.  You are an interrogator now, but one day you are going to stand before the ultimate judge, Jesus Christ, and He is going to examine you.  Without Him, there is no hope for you.  And Jesus is going to ask you, ‘Why did you do this to My servants?'”

     The interrogator was shocked by her bold words.  “I see,” he replied.  “I know exactly who you are now.  Your punishment has just increased.  Go back to your cell, and I’ll deal with you tomorrow.”

     As Shani was escorted back to her filthy cell, she prayed, “Oh, Lord, what did I do?  How could I have been so stupid?  Why did I even say all of that stuff?”  After further thought, she decided she would apologize to the interrogator and take it all back.  She decided she would say whatever he wanted her to say.

     The following night, the guards again dragged her out of her cell and into the interrogation room.  Despite her plan, she again felt the Holy Spirit’s guidance and began to share the gospel with her interrogator.  The third night, it happened again.  Each night, Shani entered the interrogation room with the intent of apologizing to the interrogator, and each night she instead boldly proclaimed the gospel.

      After the third interrogation, Sham went back to her cell hoping to give her mind a rest and fall asleep.  She hadn’t slept since her arrest and she was exhausted.  In the middle of the night, she heard a knock on her cell door.  To her surprise, it wasn’t a guard.  It was the interrogator.  Shani was terrified.  Was he coming to beat her or even to kill her because of her disrespect toward him?

     “Don’t worry,” the interrogator said calmly.  “I will not harm you.  I want to ask you for a favor.  Would you pray for me tonight?”  The interrogator entered Shani’s cell with tears in his eyes.

     “How did you know that God sent you here at this particular time in my life?” he asked.  “The past three days I’ve been going through hell.  How did you know that my life is so crazy, so messed up?  I tried everything in my religion and I could never find peace.  I learned today that the only Savior is Jesus Christ.  Please help me to be saved.”

     The interrogator stayed in Shani’s cell for three hours, and before he left, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ.  He then ordered the release of both Shani and her husband on the secret condition that they agree to meet privately to disciple him.

     Maybe you have prayed prayers like Shani’s:  Lord, I can’t handle cancer.  Lord, I can’t work for this difficult boss even one more day.  God, I can’t handle this rebellious teenager.  Lord, I can’t endure the betrayal of my unfaithful spouse.

     Shani told God she could not handle arrest, and that under torture she might give up the names of other Christians, or even deny her faith.  And yet this timid, fearful woman boldly shared her faith with her interrogator and everyone else in the room.  A frightened woman who thought she might deny her faith, ended up leading an enemy of the gospel into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

     Pastor Wally Magdangal is a Filipino Christian who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia.  He was arrested for his Christian ministry in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to death.  But God miraculously intervened, and Pastor Wally is still alive and serving the Lord today.

     As he shared his story with us, Pastor Wally said something profound: “Until God is finished with you, you are invincible.”  Until God says your time on earth is over (and He is the only one who can make that determination), you cannot be stopped.  We don’t have to live in fear of persecution, Muslim extremists, medical diagnoses, or anything else.  It’s not about us anyway; it’s about God and His power in us.  Because of God’s power in us, we need not be afraid.

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Luke 12:11-12  —  (Jesus said), “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Luke 12:4  —  (Jesus said), “I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

Joshua 1:9  —  Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

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“Lord, help me.”  –Matthew 15:25b

1369) Knowing What to Want

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

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     Contentment and peace can come by managing our expectations.

     I recall a video clip from some years ago telling the story of a wise young woman whose insights into wanting produced a beautiful result.  It showed a young woman sitting with a television documentary host.  She looked to be in her early thirties, blonde and soft-spoken.  Her eyes and facial structure made it apparent that the young woman lived with Down syndrome.

     After a few moments of preparation by the TV personality, the interview began.  This woman had recently married a man who also lived with Down syndrome.  Since marriage among Down’s persons is rare, their lives became a curiosity.

     The interviewer wanted to know how they managed.  Were they happy?  How did they pay their bills?  Since they couldn’t drive, how did they get to work?  They would never produce biological children because of their agreement to be sterilized before the wedding.  They lacked the intellectual capacity to dive into conversations about politics, religion, and global warming.  And the great American dream of home ownership seemed far beyond their reach.  How could they possibly be satisfied?

     The woman paused for a moment after the barrage of inquiries about her happiness.  She looked the interviewer in the eyes and said slowly and confidently, “I am happy because I always get what I want.”

     Dumbfounded, the interviewer went back over the litany of things the woman and her spouse would never have.  With incredible poise, this young woman repeated her point:  “I always get what I want. But I know WHAT to want.”

     The young woman explained that her happiness was rooted in realistic expectations for her life.  She didn’t believe she would be the next Nobel laureate or even a highly skilled white-collar worker.  On the contrary, because she had settled in to her place on the planet rather well, she was able to live in contentment.

     Can you say that you know what to want? Out of her wisdom and joy, this woman shared the secret to living at peace.

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“If this life were heavenly and angelic, nothing bad would ever happen and there would be no injustice.  But this is not the way it is because our sinful nature cannot do anything but sin and be foolish.  Anyone who does not know this has not yet learned about the world.  We should think of this life as though we were in a shipwreck or a fire, laboring to salvage what we can, and with that, be thankful and content.  You are foolish if you despair of everything when it does not go your way.”

–Martin Luther, “Commentary on Ecclesiastes,” Luther’s Works Volume 15, pages 124-125 (paraphrased).

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“When you pursue happiness, you flee contentment.”

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Psalm 23:1  —  The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.

Ecclesiastes 5:10  —  Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.  This too is meaningless.

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

Hebrews 13:5  —  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), ““I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

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

Book of Common Prayer

1368) Giving Up Your Life for Jesus

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By Fred Craddock, page 155, Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard Ward, Chalice Press, 2001.

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     Have you ever listened to a sermon in which the lineup of illustrations were Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and missionaries who had their feet frozen off in the tundra of the north?  As a young person sitting in church listening to those stories, I just sat there swinging my legs over the pew, saying to myself, It’s a shame you can’t be a real Christian in this little town.  Nobody is chasing or imprisoning or killing Christians here.

     Then I went away to summer camp to Bethany Hills.  It was an inspiring time, with a night of consecration around the lake, and candlelight, and just everything about it so moving.  We sang, “Are Ye Able?”  I went back to the dorm and lay on my bunk and said to God, “I’m able.”  I said, “I’ll give my life for you, Lord,” and I pictured myself running in front of a train and rescuing a child, or, swimming out and getting someone who was drowning.  I pictured myself against a gray wall and some soldier saying, “One last chance to deny Christ and live.”  But I would not deny my Lord and I bravely confessed my faith, and they said, “Ready, aim, fire.”  The body slumped, the flag was at half mast, and widows were weeping in the afternoon.  Later a monument is built, and people come with their cameras.  “Johnny, you stand over there where Fred gave his life.  Let’s get your picture.”

     I was sincere then, as I have been these forty-five years since.  “I give my life,” I said, but nobody warned me that I could not write one big check.  I’ve had to write forty-five years of little checks–  87 cents here, 21 cents there, then a dollar three cents; an endless stream of small sacrifices.  

     I’ve been just nibbled away at this giving of my life for Jesus.

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“It is easy to die for Christ.  It is hard to live for Him.  Dying takes only an hour or two, but to live for Christ means to struggle every day.”

–Sadhu Singh, Indian Christian missionary  (1889-1929)

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Luke 9:23-4  —  Then Jesus said to them all:  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

II Timothy 2:11  —  It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him.

Luke 16:10  —  (Jesus said), “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.  But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”

Matthew 25:23  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

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Here I am, Lord.  Send me.

–Isaiah 6:8b

1367) Sunday Morning Prayers

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African-American Prayer Meeting after the end of the U. S. Civil War

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SUNDAY MORNING PRAYERS FROM THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN CHURCH

From Conversations With God: Two Centuries of African-American Prayers,

ed. James Melvin Washington, pp. 56, 145; © 1994, HarperCollins.

     Almighty and all wise God our heavenly Father! ’tis once more and again that a few of your beloved children are gathered together to call upon your holy name.  We bow at your foot-stool of mercy, Master, to thank you for our spared lives.  We thank you that we were able to get up this morning clothed in our right mind, for Master, since we last met here, many have been snatched out of the land of the living and hurled into eternity.  But through your goodness and mercy we have been spared to assemble ourselves here once more to call upon a Captain who never lost a battle.  

     Oh, throw round us your strong arms of protection.  Bind us together in love and union.  Build us up where we are torn down and strengthen us where we are weak.  Oh Lord! take the lead of our minds, place them on heaven and on heavenly divine things.  Oh God, our Captain and King! search our hearts and if you find anything there contrary to your divine will, just move it from us Master, as far as the east is from the west.  

     Now Lord, you know our hearts, you know our heart’s desire.  You know our down-setting and our up-rising.  Lord you know all about us because you made us.  Lord! Lord! One more kind favor I ask of you.  Remember the man that is to stand in the gateway and proclaim your Holy Word this morning.  Oh, stand by him.  Strengthen him where he is weak and build him up where he is torn down.  Oh, let him down into the deep treasures of your Word.  

     And now, Oh Lord; when this your humble servant is done down here in this low land of sorrow; done sitting down and getting up; done being called everything but a child of God; oh; when I am done, done, done, and this old world can afford me a home no longer, right soon in the morning, Lord, right soon in the morning, meet me down at the River Jordan, bid the waters to be still, tuck my little soul away in that snow-white chariot, and bear it away over yonder in the third heaven where every day will be Sunday and my sorrows of this old world will have an end.  This is my prayer for Christ’s my Redeemer’s sake and amen and thank God.    

–Classic African-American Folk Prayer

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Exodus 20:8  —  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 

Luke 4:16  —  (Jesus) went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

Hebrews 10:25  —  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 

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O Lord, we come this morning knee bowed and body bent before thy throne of grace.  We come this morning Lord, like empty pitchers before a full fountain, realizing that many who are better by nature than we are by practice have passed into that great beyond; and yet you have allowed us your humble servants to plod along just a few days longer here in this howling wilderness.  We thank thee Lord that we arose this morning, and that our bed was not a cooling board, and our sheet was not a winding shroud.  We are not gathered here for form or fashion, but we come in our humble way to serve thee.  We thank thee Lord that we are clothed in our right mind– bless the sick and afflicted– those who are absent through no fault of their own.  And when I have done prayed my last prayer and sung my last song, and when I’m done climbing the rough side of the mountain, when I come down to tread the steep and prickly banks of Jordan, meet me with thy rod and staff and bear me safely over.  All these things I ask in Jesus’ name, world without end.  Amen.

 –An Old Prayer from the African-American Church

1366) A Visit From Father Time

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This meditation is from my grandson’s devotion book, The One Year Devotions for Boys, December 30th, Tyndale Publishers, copyright 2000 by The Children’s Bible Hour.  He read this to me a few nights ago when I was at his house, and I thought it would be worth passing on.  It contains a valuable lesson for us at any age.

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     When John’s mother made him shut off a violent program on TV, he headed for his room, muttering angrily to himself.  “I hate being a kid,” he growled as he climbed into bed. “I wish I was grown-up so I could do as I please!”  It seemed only a moment later when he heard footsteps.  “Is that you, Mom?” he asked.

     A shaky voice answered.  “No.  My name is Father Time, and I understand you want to be older.  I can make you any age you want to be.”

     John couldn’t believe his ears!  “What luck!” he murmured.  “I think I’ll be 21.”  Immediately he found himself in the middle of a battlefield!  Bullets whizzed around him as he begged to move on to a different age.

     Father Time agreed that John could move on if he wished.  So he tried being 40.  That was even worse!  He found himself at his mother’s funeral!  After again begging to go on, John saw that at 50, he was a cross, worried businessman with no time for pleasure.  “This is awful,” grumbled John.  “Can I be 65?  I should be retired then, so I can take it easy.”

     Father Time again granted his wish, but, alas!  Instead of enjoying his retirement, John found himself sick and dying.  “I don’t want to be here!” he cried.  “I want to go back.  I want my mother!  Mother!  Mother!”

     The next thing John knew, Mother was beside him.  “I’m here,” she comforted.  “You must have had a nightmare.”

     John was shaking, but he was so relieved!  “I did,” he said, “and you know what?  I found out how good I’ve got it.  I’m glad I’m a kid.”

HOW ABOUT YOU?  Are you eager to grow up?  Don’t be in such a hurry.  Remember that every age has both advantages and handicaps.  With God’s help, let Jesus be the Lord of your life.  Then you’ll be content, and you’ll get the very best out of life, no matter what age you are.

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Hebrews 13:5b  —  Be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Philippians 4:11b-13  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

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

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THE SERENITY PRAYER

(original version, later adapted and popularized by AA)

God,
Give me Grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, 
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, 
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is, 
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen.

–Reinhold Niebuhr, American theologian, (1892-1971)

1365) Harmless Superstitions?

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From The Continuing Story of Manuel, by Hugh Steven, 1987, Credo Publishing Corporation, (pages 40-44).

Manuel Arenas (1932-1992) was born into the Totonac tribe of Indians in eastern Mexico.  He worked with Wycliffe Bible Translators translating the Bible into his language.  He spent his life working to provide educational opportunities for the Totonacs and other tribal peoples in Mexico.   He traveled throughout the world speaking in colleges, universities, Bible schools and churches about the work of Wycliffe.  This story took place after a speech in Switzerland.

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     In attendance on the evening Manuel spoke to the youth club was a young man who had come to the rally at his fiancé’s invitation.  When the meeting ended, he and his fiancé introduced themselves: The young woman expressed her happiness that the Totonacs had the New Testament in their own language.  “How wonderful there are so many believers in Jesus Christ,” she said.

     But when her fiancé spoke to Manuel, he expressed no such appreciation.  Instead, he asked, “In your talk you said you were glad this Bible translator had come to your village, and that if he hadn’t come, you probably would never have heard about Jesus Christ.”

     “Yes, that’s true,” said Manuel. “The man’s name is Mr. Aschmann and—”

     “That’s very nice,” interrupted the young man, “but what I would like to know is why you gave up your religion in favor of this Western religion.  Why is it so important for the Totonac people to know about Jesus Christ and Christianity?  It’s my opinion that if Western man wants to believe this sort of thing, it’s okay.  But the Totonac people have their own religion. It’s just as good as Christianity; maybe even better.  Why do you want your Totonac friends to believe like you?  I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe Christianity is better than your Totonac religion.”

     “Tell me,” said Manuel, “do you know what Totonacs believe?  Have you lived in a Totonac house to see how our household gods are worshiped?”

     “Well, no, not exactly. But I have read some books—”

     “And I have also read books,” said Manuel. “Books that describe what our people look like and what they wear, how we build our houses, and how weddings and funerals are conducted.  These books also tell others what we believe.  But what these books can never tell is how we feel down deep inside.  We may look happy on the outside and we may laugh, but inside we are a people who have deep churnings, and nervousness, and mistrust of others.  And we have a great fear of the gods and spirits that live in special trees and rocks and streams.”

     “But that’s just harmless superstition,” said the young man.

     “Let me give you an example of what it is like to live with what you call ‘harmless superstition,”‘ said Manuel.  “When you are thirsty, you take a drink of water whenever you want.  But in my village, if you are thirsty at high noon, you must wait.  You must wait because the people believe the lords of the water and the nearby stream take away the spirit of the person who drinks water at high noon.  If they do happen to take a drink of water at that time, the person becomes sick.  The witch doctors are called, candles are lit, and special flowers and spices are spread around the sick person.  A chicken is sacrificed and the blood poured out on the ground.  Maybe the witch doctor will come four or five times, and after about a week, he will tell the sick person that his spirit has returned and he is better.  All this is paid for by the sick person’s family.

     “I grew up fearing the many evil spirits of the forest, the stream, the earth, and the trees.  We believed evil spirits were everywhere.  I saw how strong they were and how they bullied those who sacrificed to them.  But when the New Testament Scriptures were translated into our language and Totonacs began to believe and accept Jesus Christ into their lives, I saw those fears gradually disappear.  This is why I want all Totonacs and everyone to become true believers in Jesus Christ.  Only He can take away fear and give hope and peace, for this life and for the true life to come.”

     And so Manuel and the young man talked.  Manuel carefully and enthusiastically explained the personal benefits he had received since accepting Jesus Christ into his life.  Manuel emphasized that authentic Christianity had little to do with religion, traditions, or moralizing.  Rather, he stressed that Christianity had to do with truth, compassion and love; the love of God and his Son, Jesus Christ; a love so strong and full of integrity that it allows the true Christian to treat his neighbor as he himself would like to be treated.  

     That very night, after several hours of hearing Manuel describe what it means to be a Christian, the young man came to faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

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Revelation 5:9  —  They sang a new song, saying:  “You (the Lamb of God, Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Psalm 34:4  —  I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Luke 2:10  —  And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

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 Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

1364) “I Don’t Give a …”

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     An old Catholic archbishop was giving his Good Friday sermon to a large crowd in his inner-city cathedral.  He told a story of three boys who long ago came into that same church during the confessional time.  They were laughing and joking and making all kinds of disrespectful racket.  Two of the boys then dared the other one to go into the confessional booth and make some stupid confession.  They made a bet that he would not do it.  But the boy did go in, and still chuckling, he made an outrageous confession to the priest.  He said that he had robbed several banks, beat up his parents, knifed many other tough guys in fights, and went to bed with a different woman every night.  His two friends were rolling in the aisles with laughter.  The priest, however, kept his cool and replied calmly, “My son, in the name of your Savior, Jesus Christ, all of your many sins are forgiven you.”

     The boy got up to leave and collect on his bet, but the priest called him back.  He said, “You are forgiven, but as you know, every word of forgiveness requires an act of penance.  This is what you must do.  When you leave the confessional booth, you must go to the altar and look up at the statue of Jesus on the cross, with the crown of thorns on his head, the nails in his hands and feet, the stab wound from the spear in his side, and the scars from the beatings on his back.  I want you to look into the eyes of your Lord on that cross, and I want you to say to him, ‘I know what you did for me Jesus and I’m here to tell you that I don’t give a damn.'”

     The boy stood still.  He was no longer laughing.  Now, he just wanted to get out of there.  He went to his friends and said, “There, I won the bet.  Let’s go.”  

     But the friends, still howling with laughter, said, “Oh no, you aren’t done yet.  If you want to win the bet, you have to finish your act of confession and do the act of penance.  Go in and do it.”  

     The boy did not want to go back, but he did not want to lose the bet.  So he went up to the cross, looked up at Jesus, and started to say, “I know what you did for me Jesus and I don’t give a …”  He stopped.  He could not finish the sentence.  He started again, and again stopped.  He tried one more time, and again had to quit.  Finally, he ran past his laughing friends and out of the church.  

     The old archbishop telling the story then ended his sermon by saying, “I was that young man, and that day changed my life.  I realized I could not say what the priest said I should say.  I realized that I did care what Jesus did for me, and I knew I should begin acting like I cared.  So the next day I went back to that priest and made a proper confession.  In time, I myself became a priest, and it was all because that priest in that confessional made me look at the wounds of Christ and think about how those wounds were for me.”

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Pray about any areas of your life in which you need to confess the attitude of “I know what is right, and I know what you want me to do, Jesus, and I know what you did for me– but I don’t care.”

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Isaiah 53:4-6  —  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:  yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

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TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC PRAYER BEFORE A CRUCIFIX (www.catholic.org/prayers):

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Thy face I humbly kneel and, with burning soul,
pray and beseech Thee
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Thy five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Thy prophet, said of Thee, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones.”  Amen.

1363) Is There Anything Unique About Christianity?

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     Greg was a freshman in college.  He went home for spring break and on Sunday morning went to worship at the church he attended while growing up.  After the service he stayed to talk to the pastor.

     “Pastor Mike,” Greg said, “I am not so sure any more about much of what I learned from you in confirmation class.”

     “Oh really?” the pastor replied.  “Tell me more.”

     “You always taught us that Christianity was the one, true faith, and how everyone should believe in Jesus,” Greg said.  “But I am taking a class on world religions and it is becoming clear to me that all religions say pretty much the same thing.”

     “Tell me more,” Pastor Mike said.  “Perhaps I’ve missed something.”

     “Well, as you know,” Greg continued, “Christianity is primarily about loving your neighbor, obeying the Ten Commandments, and following the Golden Rule.  But what I have been learning is that every religion has a moral code, and they all say the same things—don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery, worship God, love your neighbor, and all the rest.  There is nothing unique about Christianity’s moral code.”

     “I agree with you completely,” said Pastor Mike.  “Was there anything else you were wondering about?”

     Greg looked bewildered.  “What?” he said.  “You agree with me?”

     “I certainly do,” replied the pastor.  “No religion, and no culture for that matter, would last very long without such a moral code.  How could it?  Families would disintegrate, no one could be trusted, no one’s property would be safe, and people would end up killing each other in order to survive.  Society would be reduced to ‘survival of the fittest,’ just like in the animal kingdom.  The Ten Commandments are just the basic rules necessary for life together.  Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and even the ancient Aztecs and Egyptians, all contain many of the same rules.  Now, I do believe Christianity has a superior moral code.  You don’t find much in the other religions about loving, forgiving, and praying for your enemies; and you learn much more about serving those in need from the Bible than anywhere else.  But I’ll agree, Greg, there is nothing unique about the Christianity’s basic moral code.”

     “Why, then, is there all this fuss about having to believe in Jesus?” Greg asked.  “Why do we send missionaries all over the world to tell people about Jesus if they already have a good enough religion?”

     “Oh,” said Pastor Mike, “are we talking about Jesus now?  I thought we were talking about morality.”

     “Isn’t it all the same?” Greg asked.  “Didn’t Jesus say he was here to uphold the Law, and wasn’t he always telling people to ‘go and sin no more.’?”

     “That’s right,” said the pastor, “but isn’t there anything else you remember about Jesus from confirmation?  I will give you a hint.  Next Sunday is Easter.”

     “Well, yes,” Greg said, “Jesus rose from the dead, but…”

     “But what?” asked Pastor Mike.  “Think about what you just said: He rose from the dead.  You said there was nothing unique about Christianity’s moral code.  But there is much more to our faith than ethics.  And the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is unique.  Have you ever seen anything like it?  What’s more, have you run across anything like that in your study of the world’s religions?  Islam can be traced back to Mohammed, but any Muslim will tell you that Mohammed died and stayed dead, and if possible, they will make a pilgrimage to his tomb.  And Buddha never claimed to be able to rise from the dead, nor did Confucius or Moses or any other religious leader return from the dead.  Have you learned in your world religion class of any other resurrected leaders?”

     “No, I guess not,” replied Greg.

     Pastor Mike continued.  “Greg, I’m not a Christian because of the Ten Commandments.  I can get rules and laws anywhere.  So of course, all the religions of the world have that part of the truth.  But Jesus offered much more.  Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins—our failure to keep the rules—and then he rose from the dead to defeat death and offer us eternal life. That is what we need most; not more rules.  And that part we could never manage on our own.  We can obey rules– at least some of them, some of the time.  But we can’t raise the dead, and we can’t prevent our own death.  If you want to know about Christianity, you don’t start with the commandments; you start with Jesus and his death and resurrection.  There is the heart and soul of our faith.  That is what Jesus told his disciples to tell the whole world about.  There is much in every religion that is true and good.  But only in the person of Jesus of Nazareth did God visit his creation, die for the sins of all humanity, and then rise from the dead offering eternal life to all who would believe in him.  No other religion has anything like that.”

     Greg thought for a moment, and then said, “Why, then, did you make us memorize the commandments?”

     “Because we need that, too, and so does everyone in the whole world,” said Pastor Mike.  The commandments are not the most important part of the Christian faith, but they are important.  Yes, Jesus offers resurrection from the dead and life in heaven forever. But until then we have to live together here on this earth and get along now in this life.  Because our obedience will always be far from perfect, this world will always be a sad and troubled place.  It was on the cross that Jesus somehow took all that sin and sadness upon himself and died for it all.  But when he rose from the dead, he promised that we too would one day be freed from sin and death.  Obey the rules, yes, but most of all, believe in Jesus.  There is no one else like him.”

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John 6:68-69  — Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Acts 4:11-12  —  Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

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.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

1362) How to Repent (part two of two)

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     (continued…)   The next day one of the nurses saw her pastor who was visiting one of his parishioners in the same hospital.  She asked if he would stop in to see the woman, and he agreed to do so.  He went into her room and introduced himself and asked if she wanted to talk.  “It’s no use,” she said, “It is too late.  I have been a terrible sinner and I am going to hell and I deserve it.  But I am afraid.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “the Bible says we are all terrible sinners, and you are right, you do deserve to go to hell, and so do I.  But Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  The woman nodded, and the pastor continued.  He said, “The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, ‘While we were yet sinners, and enemies of God, Christ Jesus died for us.’  And do you know what Paul did before he became an apostle?  He hunted down and persecuted the early believers in Jesus, even standing by and approving as one named Stephen was executed by a mob.  But then Paul was saved.  And the Bible says that if you confess your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus, you too can be saved.  Do you want to confess your sins?”

     The woman listened attentively, but was confused.  “Confess?” she asked, “Now? To you?”

     “No,” said the pastor, “Not to me, but to Jesus.  But I will stay here to help you.  Are you sorry for your sins, and do you truly repent of them?”

    “Sorry, yes, I am sorry, nothing but sorry,” she said, “I am filled with regret; fear and regret and dread– I am feeling all of that right now.”

     “Well, that’s a good start,” the pastor said.  “The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that if are sorry for your sins you can be forgiven.  You are fearing God’s judgment and you have deep sorrow for your sins, and so you are ready to repent.  Shall we begin in prayer?”

     The woman bowed her head, and the pastor began.  He invited Jesus into the room, he told Jesus that this woman was a terrible sinner, and that she now wanted to confess her sins.  He asked her to pray a simple prayer from the Bible: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Sobbing, she repeated the words.  The pastor then encouraged her to begin to confess, and begin she did.  She started with how even as a child she was so mean to her parents, and then how, as a teenager she ran away from home.  She let them worry about her for months, not letting them know where she was or even if she was alive.  To support herself, she had gotten into a life of prostitution, which she was involved in on and off for years.  It was the only steady work she ever had.  Along with that she lied, cheated, betrayed her friends, and stole, doing whatever she could to stay alive and support her drug habit.  She had settled down a bit for a couple years, got married, and even had a child.  But the marriage ended and the child had long ago been taken away from her, and she made no effort to keep in touch.  Her parents were dead, her siblings had quit trying to contact her, and her few friends were all either dead or too full of their own troubles to come and see her.  She was alone with her regrets.  Her confession was filled with such crying that the nurses came in a couple times to make sure everything was all right.  Finally, she laid her head back on the pillow, exhausted and silent.

     The pastor said nothing for a long time, and then finally said, “You have indeed been a terrible sinner, and God hates sin.  But having confessed your sin, and being truly sorry for them, I can say to you, that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake, God forgives you all your sins.  The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  Do you believe in Jesus and are you willing to invite him into your heart?”, the pastor asked.

      She replied, “I am not even sure what that all means, but yes, I want to believe.  I want to be forgiven and I want to go to heaven and not to hell.”

     “Just look to Jesus,” the pastor said, “just keep telling him that you want to believe, and he will take care of the rest.  When Jesus was on earth people came to him with even the smallest seed of faith, and he received them and blessed them.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, a thief was dying on a cross next to him.  And that thief came to Jesus then, just like you now, in the last hours of a miserable life.  And all that thief said was, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus said some wonderful words to him.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Let that be your simple prayer now and for whatever is left of your life; “Jesus, remember me.”  And then, when you fall asleep here, you will wake up not in hell, but in heaven with Jesus.  You have God’s word on it.  ‘Today,’ Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’”

     The nurse who invited that pastor in told him later that the woman died peacefully a few days after that visit.  And instead of hearing her constant crying, the nurses would hear her praying over and over again, “Jesus, remember me.”  It was the only prayer she knew, but she had heard the story of how Jesus received and honored even such a simple plea for mercy as that.

     The love of God isn’t just an idea or a principal, like the first chaplain presented it, but it is to be found in a Person.  And the love of God isn’t just an ointment that you can smear over everything that moves, like the first chaplain did, without any reference to that woman’s sinful life or her complete absence of faith.  The love of God is received by faith and confession and repentance and prayer.  That woman knew her sin needed to be taken seriously and dealt with; and that is what the second pastor helped her do, along with calling her to faith in Christ Jesus.  We know the love of God by knowing Jesus, and we come to faith in God through Jesus, who forgives our sins.

     Faith isn’t just whatever you want it to be.  Faith has a specific object and content, it is faith in something solid, in Someone who was here, and who had some specific things to say, both promises and commands.  That Someone is Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life.  Confess your sins, repent, and believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.

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Proverbs 9:10  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  —  Luke 18:13b

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  –Luke 23:42