1419) Not on the Same Page (a)

Titian's Transfiguration (detail)

Transfiguration, 1560, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)  c. 1488-1576

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     Maggie and Beth were roommates and good friends through all four years of college.  Both majored in business management, and they had big plans.  In their senior year they had many late night discussions about the on-line children’s clothing business they were going to build together.  Friends saw them as a great team, were impressed by their drive and determination, and were sure that their company would be a big success.  Maggie and Beth got started even before they graduated, worked very hard, and their new business did quite well– for a while.  But then there were some bumps on the road, success was stalled, and one day, to everyone’s surprise, Maggie bought out Beth’s half of the business and they went their separate ways.  “What happened?” friends asked.  “Well,” Beth said, “we had too many conflicting agendas.”  Maggie said, “We weren’t on the same page anymore.”

     Conflicting agendas and not on the same page: those phrases can be applied not only to the business world, but also at times to friendships, marriages, churches, politics, and schools;  in fact, anyplace where people have to work together.  Maggie and Beth remained friends.  Neither one said that the other was a bad person or dishonest or mean.  They just had different ideas on how to run a company, and were no longer able to be partners.

     These phrases, ‘conflicting agendas,’ and ‘not on the same page,’ do not appear in the Gospels, but Jesus had that problem in his relationships with those he knew, worked with, and ministered unto.  He impressed people and confused them at the same time.  People were attracted to him and irritated by him.  The afflicted found comfort in Jesus, but then Jesus found ways to challenge and afflict those who became too comfortable.  He came announcing a whole new world– “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he would say.  But then, oftentimes when he did a miraculous healing, he would tell the healed person not to tell anyone.  He would get huge crowds following him, and the disciples would tell him to come and meet them, but then sometimes Jesus would withdraw to be by himself and pray.  Later, when the crowds grew turned against Jesus, the disciples warned him that it would be dangerous to go into Jerusalem; but then Jesus chose to go to Jerusalem and mix with the crowds, and within a week of his arrival his was arrested and put on a cross.  Jesus told parables to simplify his message for the common people, but then sometimes his parables were so mysterious that his own disciples didn’t even get the point.  His interpretation of the Law of Moses was at times even stricter than Moses, but then Jesus was tender and merciful to even the worst sinners.  As time went on, people began to see that Jesus was not on the same page as anyone.  Sometimes it seemed he wasn’t even in the same book.  Jesus had his own agenda.

     The account of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-9 is a perfect example of this.  The story comes when the ministry of Jesus is in full swing.  He is well known, but people are baffled by him.  “Who is this man?” was a common question, meaning, “Who is he that he is able to control the weather, heal a leper, make the lame walk, let the deaf hear, give sight to the blind, and even raise the dead?”  But the people also asked “Who is this man?” in the sense of “Who does he think he is to forgive sins, reinterpret the Law of Moses, associate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and even say that he and the Father are one?”  Everyone was wondering who Jesus was and what he was all about.

     The Transfiguration would have sealed the deal for Jesus.  Who was Jesus?  There he was, on the mountain with Moses, the greatest Liberator, and Elijah, the greatest prophet that Israel had ever known:  Moses, back from the dead, and Elijah, visiting from heaven where he had been transported by fiery chariot 700 years earlier.  And in the presence of those two great men, a voice from heaven said of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!”

     Any questions?  Not any more.  That settled everything.  Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the Son of God remained, with “his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as the light” (verse two).

     Even before Moses and Elijah disappeared, Peter could see the marketing possibilities in an event like this.  “Let’s build three shelters,” he said, perhaps meaning a place for these Jesus and these two old favorites to stay, and then more people could come up and see them together and know that Jesus was the One they had been waiting for.  No one could have any doubts then about who Jesus was.  (continued…)

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Matthew 17:1-9   —  After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  There he was transfigured before them.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.  If you wish, I will put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell face-down to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them.  “Get up,” he said.  “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

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Send down, O Lord, Thy wisdom to lead us, teaching us what is acceptable to Thee; so that we may keep in mind our end and wisely choose our way.  Amen.  (source lost)

1418) Living With Ingratitude

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In these quotes taken from an anthology of quotes by Martin Luther (What Luther Says, volume 3,  Concordia), Luther teaches us to learn to live with ingratitude.

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     To learn to be thankful is not enough; we must also get used to exercising the virtue of bearing up under ingratitude.  This virtue belongs to God alone and to real Christians…  Learn this lesson, then.  Let him who would be a Christian be prepared to earn ingratitude with all his benefactions, faithfulness, and service; and let him beware lest he be moved thereby no longer to serve and help others.  For one of the Christian virtues and a real fruit of faith consists in your saying, when people give you a dirty deal after you have done your best:  “No, you will not get me angry and disgruntled by your conduct.  I will put up with it and nevertheless help wherever I can.  Will you be unthankful?  I know One in heaven above us who will thank me in your stead.  His thanks will be more pleasing to me than yours.”  This is maintaining a Christian attitude.  But you will not be able to learn this art from the world.  It does the very opposite.  (#4555)

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     We must live among ungrateful people, but we should not take offense and cease to do good on that account.  On the contrary, we should continually do good and pay no attention to the poor thanks we reap– just as God lets His sun rise daily on both the grateful and the ungrateful  (Matthew 5:45).

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     For if you do good in order to earn the gratitude and applause of the world, you will find the very opposite.  Now if you grow very angry, want to wreck everything, and are determined to do no more good, you are no longer a Christian.  You harm yourself and accomplish nothing.  Can you not remember where your real and eternal home lies, and that for now you are living in a world which is bound to be full of vice and ingratitude?…  It requires no skill to live with the pious only and to do good to them, but it does require ability to associate with the wicked without becoming wicked yourself.    (#4556)

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Psalm 35:12 — They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn.

Ecclesiastes 9:14-15 — There was once a small city with only a few people in it.  And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it.  Now there lived in that city a man poor, but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom.  But nobody remembered that poor man.

Jeremiah 18:19-20 — Listen to me, O Lord; hear what my accusers are saying.  Should good be repaid with evil?  Yet they have dug a pit for me.  Remember that I stood before you and spoke in their behalf to turn your wrath away from them.

Luke 17:11-19 — Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.  One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Matthew 5:45 — He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

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     O Father and God of all comfort, grant us by your Word, a firm, happy, and grateful faith, by which we may readily overcome this and every trial, and at length realize that it is the truth when your Son, Jesus Christ says: “Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”  Amen.  

–Martin Luther

1417) “What is it You Believe?”

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   Gerhard Forde (1927-2005) was a professor of systematic theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota for almost forty years.  He told the story of going to a social gathering at a local college several years ago.  One of the professors of that college introduced himself to Professor Forde in this way: “I am a writer of books,” he said, “and what is it that you do?”
     Dr. Forde said, “Well, it just so happens that I write books as well.”
     The other man asked, “What sort of books do you write?”
     Dr. Forde replied, “I mainly write about Jesus Christ.”
     The other man then said, “Imagine that, a learned man like yourself writing about Jesus Christ.  Do you mean to say that you write about him as the Son of God, Savior of the world, risen from the dead?  You don’t really believe all that religious mumbo-jumbo, do you?”
     “Well, I suppose I do,” said Dr. Forde, and then asked, “And what is it that you believe?”
     And the other professor said, “I believe in the dignity of man.  I believe in the basic goodness of all human beings.  I believe that through reason and the power of science, we can begin to address those problems that have plagued the world from the beginning, and in the end, I believe that love will prevail.  If I did not believe this, then I would not be able to get up in the morning and write my books.”
     And Dr. Forde replied, “Imagine that, a learned man like yourself, believing in all that mumbo-jumbo.”

–From a sermon by Luther Seminary professor Steven Paulson at a 2006 conference.

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 I Corinthians 1:17-25 — For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 
     Where is the wise man?  Where is the scholar?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

I Corinthians 2:13-14 — This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 

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A PRAYER FOR ONE’S STUDY by SAMUEL JOHNSON (1709-84):
     O Lord, my Maker and Protector, who hast graciously sent me into this world to work out my salvation, enable me to drive from myself all such unquiet and perplexing thoughts as may mislead or hinder me in the practice of those duties which thou hast required.  When I behold the works of thy hands and consider the course of thy providence, give me Grace always to remember that thy thoughts are not my thoughts, nor thy ways my ways.  And while it shall please Thee to continue me in this world where much is to be done and little to be known, teach me by thy Holy Spirit to withdraw my mind from unprofitable and dangerous inquiries,  from difficulties vainly curious, and doubts impossible to be solved.  Let me rejoice in the light which thou hast imparted, let me serve thee with active zeal and humble confidence, and wait with patient expectation for the time in which my soul, which Thou receivest, shall be satisfied with knowledge.  Grant this, O Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

1416) Finally Rich Enough to Be Generous

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From No Greater Love, by Mother Teresa, 1997:

     One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children.  They have not eaten for days.”  I took some food with me and went.

     When I finally came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger.  There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger.  I gave the rice to the mother.  She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice.  When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?”  She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbors; they are hungry also!”

     I was not surprised that she gave, because poor people are often very generous.  But I was surprised that she knew they were hungry.  As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves we have no time for others. 

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     An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting.  Opening the door a few cautious inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble.  He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables.  He bid us good morning and offered his produce for sale.  We were uneasy enough to make a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear.

     To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road.  As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize that it wasn’t alcohol, but cataracts, that marbleized his eyes.  On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing shabby old clothes and two mismatched right shoes, and pull out a harmonica.  With glazed eyes set on a future glory, he’d puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion.

     On one visit, he exclaimed, “The Lord is so good!  I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.”    

    “That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth,” we said.  “We’re happy for you.” 

     “You know what’s even more wonderful?” he asked.  “Just yesterday I met some people that could use them.”     –Author unknown 

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Proverbs 11:25  —  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 

Proverbs 19:17  —  He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Luke 12:48b  —  From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. 

Luke 21:1-4  —  As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

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Guide us, teach us, and strengthen us, O Lord we beseech thee, until we become such as thou wouldst have us be: pure, gentle, truthful, high-minded, courteous, generous, able, dutiful, and useful; for thy honor and glory. Amen.

–Charles Kingsley

1415) Albert Einstein’s View of the Church

     Much has been said about the failure of the churches to stand up against Adolph Hitler and the Nazi revolution in Germany in the 1930’s.  Certainly, many in the church became enthusiastic supporters of the Nazis, even as Hitler placed more and more restrictions upon the work of the church, forcing it to allow the evil message of the Nazis to have authority over the message of the Gospel.  

     But there were many in the church who were not silent, and who did speak out in spite of the danger.  Their brave witness has been forgotten by many, but it did not go unnoticed at the time.

     Albert Einstein, a Jew, was exiled from Germany.  He had this to say about what he saw in the 1930’s  (Quoted in Time magazine, 12-23-1940, page 38):  

     Being a lover of freedom, when the (Nazi) revolution came I looked to the universities to defend it (freedom), knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities took refuge in silence.

     Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks.

English: Albert Einstein Français : Portrait d...

Albert Einstein

     I then addressed myself to the authors, to those who had passed themselves off as the intellectual guides of Germany, and among whom was frequently discussed the question of freedom and its place in modern life.  They were, in turn, very dumb (silent).

   Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler’s campaign for suppressing the truth.  I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual truth and moral freedom.  I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.

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Acts 4:18-20 — Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 17:5b-7 — They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd.  But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting:  “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house.  They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.”

     John 18:36 — Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place.”

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Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage:  We humbly pray that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.  Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.  Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes who came here from many lands and tongues.  Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there be justice and peace at home; and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth.  In time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

1414) The Real Stars

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Ben Stein (1944- )

For several years Ben Stein wrote a biweekly column called “Monday Night at Morton’s.”  Morton’s is a famous chain of steakhouses known to be frequented by movie stars and famous people from around the world.  Ben Stein knew many of them and would write about his visits with them at Morton’s.  In July of 2004 Stein wrote his final ‘Morton’s’ column.  Today’s meditation is taken from that column. 

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     I no longer think Hollywood stars are terribly important.  They are uniformly pleasant, friendly people, and they treat me better than I deserve to be treated.  But a man or woman who makes a huge wage for memorizing lines and reciting them in front of a camera is no longer my idea of a shining star we should all look up to.  How can a man or woman who makes an eight-figure wage and lives in insane luxury really be a star in today’s world, if by a “star” we mean someone bright and powerful and attractive as a role model?  Real stars are not riding around in the backs of limousines or in Porsches or getting trained in yoga and eating only raw fruit while they have Vietnamese girls do their nails.  They can be interesting, nice people, but they are not heroes to me any longer.

     A real star is the soldier of the 4th Infantry Division who poked his head into a hole on a farm near Tikrit, Iraq.  He could have been met by a bomb or a hail of AK-47 bullets.  Instead, he faced an abject Saddam Hussein and the gratitude of all of the decent people of the world.  A real star is the U.S. soldier who was sent to disarm a bomb next to a road north of Baghdad.  He approached it, and the bomb went off and killed him.  A real star, the kind who haunts my memory night and day, is the U.S. soldier in Baghdad who saw a little girl playing with a piece of unexploded ordinance on a street near where he was guarding a station.  He pushed her aside and threw himself on it just as it exploded.  He left a family desolate in California and a little girl alive in Baghdad.

     The stars who deserve media attention are not the ones who have lavish weddings on television, but the ones who patrol the streets of Mosul even after two of their buddies were murdered and their bodies battered and stripped for the sin of trying to protect Iraqis from terrorists.  We put couples with incomes of $100 million a year on the covers of our magazines.  The noncoms and officers who barely scrape by on military pay but stand on guard in Afghanistan and Iraq and on ships and in submarines and near the Arctic Circle are anonymous as they live and die.  I am no longer comfortable being a part of the system that has such poor values, and I do not want to perpetuate those values by pretending that who is eating at Morton’s is a big subject.

     There are plenty of other stars in the American firmament.  The policemen and women who go off on patrol in South Central and have no idea if they will return alive.  The orderlies and paramedics who bring in people who have been in terrible accidents and prepare them for surgery.  The teachers and nurses who throw their whole spirits into caring for autistic children.  The kind men and women who work in hospices and in cancer wards.  Think of each and every fireman who was running up the stairs at the World Trade Center as the towers began to collapse.  Now you have my idea of a real hero.

      In my previous column, I told you a few of the rules I have learned to keep my sanity.  Well, here is a final one to help you keep your sanity and keep you in the running for stardom:  We are puny, insignificant creatures.  We are not responsible for the operation of the universe, and what happens to us is not terribly important.  God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves.  In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.

      I can put it another way.  Years ago, I realized I could never be as great an actor as Olivier or as good a comic as Steve Martin or as good an economist as Samuelson or Friedman or as good a writer as Fitzgerald.  Or even remotely close to any of them.

    But I could be a devoted father to my son, husband to my wife and, above all, a good son to the parents who had done so much for me.  This came to be my main task in life.  I did it moderately well with my son, pretty well with my wife, and well indeed with my parents (with my sister’s help).  I cared for and paid attention to them in their declining years.  I stayed with my father as he got sick, went into extremis and then into a coma, and then entered immortality with my sister and me reading him the Psalms.

     This was the only point at which my life touched the type of heroism of the soldiers in Iraq or the firefighters in New York.  I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters, and that it is my duty, in return for the lavish life God has devolved upon me, to help others He has placed in my path.  This is my highest and best use as a human.

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There is the old story of the man stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world.  “Dear God,” he cried out, “look at all the suffering, the anguish, and the distress in your world.  Why don’t you send help?” God responded, “I did send help.  I sent you.”

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Luke 22:24-27 — Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.  Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.  But you are not to be like that.  Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one who is at the table?  But I am among you as one who serves.”

Acts 20:35 — In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said:  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

I Peter 4:10 — Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

Revelation 14:13 — Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write:  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”
     “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

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You are never tired, O Lord, of doing us good; let us never be weary of doing you service.  But as you have pleasure in the well-being of your servants, let us take pleasure in the service of our Lord, and abound in your work and in your love and praise evermore.  Amen.   –John Wesley

1413) Meditations of My Heart

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Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.

–Psalm 19:14

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     In his Daily Hope blog yesterday, Rick Warren suggested nine questions to help in our meditations while reading God’s Word.  Here are those questions, along with an example of a Bible verse that would apply to each one.  You may want to print these questions and put them with your Bible to use in your daily reading, and/or, to use with the verses in each day’s Emailmeditation.

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  1. Is there a SIN to confess?  Does God’s Word make you aware of something you need to make right with God?

Proverbs 28:13  —  Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

  1. Is there a PROMISE to claim? There are more than 7,000 promises in God’s Word.  Ask yourself if the passage you’ve read contains any promises.

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

  1. Is there an ATTITUDE to change?  Is there something about which you need to think differently?  Do you need to work on a negative attitude, worry, guilt, fear, loneliness, bitterness, pride, apathy, or ego?

Philippians 24-5  —  Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others.  Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

  1. Is there a COMMAND to obey? Is there a command you need to obey, no matter how you feel?

Matthew 22:37-39  —  (Jesus said), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

  1. Is there an EXAMPLE to follow? Are there positive examples to follow or negative examples to avoid?

James 5:10-11  —  Brothers and sisters, follow the example of the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. They were patient when they suffered unjustly.  We consider those who endure to be blessed. You have heard about Job’s endurance. You saw that the Lord ended Job’s suffering because the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

  1. Is there a PRAYER to pray? Paul, David, Solomon, Elijah, and Isaiah, among others, pray in the Bible.  You can use their prayers and know that they’ll be answered because they’re in the Bible and in God’s will.

Luke 18:38  —  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

  1. Is there an ERROR to avoid?  It’s wise to learn from experience, and it’s even wiser to learn from the experience of others.  We don’t have time to make all the mistakes ourselves.  So what can you learn from the mistakes of those in Scripture?

Ephesians 4:29  —  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

  1. Is there a TRUTH to believe? Often, we’ll read something in Scripture that we can’t do anything about.  We simply have to believe what it says.

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

  1. Is there SOMETHING for which to praise God?  You can always find something in a passage you can be grateful to God for, like something God has protected you from or something God has done.

Psalm 103:1-4  —  Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.  Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.

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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)

1412) Nails in the Fence

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     There once was a little boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

     The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

     Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.  The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

     The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

     The little boy then understood how powerful his words were.  He looked up at his father and said, “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”

     “Of course I can,” said the father.     –Author unknown

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Ephesians 4:26-27  —  In your anger do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Proverbs 29:22  —  An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins .

James 1:19-20  —  My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

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Heavenly Father, I know that You examine my heart.  Search the inner depths of my heart and expose anything that is not pleasing to You, so that I can be set free.  I know that I have directed anger toward others and that I still have anger inside of me.  I confess this sin to you and ask you to forgive me and to take my anger away.  Heal any wounds that I have inflicted through my words and actions.  Help me to speak words of forgiveness and healing.  I pray in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

–Author unknown

1411) Gather the Fragments

     The same year Catherine Booth was dying of cancer in London (see yesterday’s meditation), Methodist pastor Edgar Helms (1863-1942) was beginning his ministry at Morgan Chapel in the slums of Boston’s South End.  Poor people often came to his church office looking for food and clothes.  They were literally starving and freezing, and he could not refuse them.  But he did not know what to do.  He could not take care of all the needs out of his small income; neither could his congregation, because most of them were poor themselves.

     Helms took the matter to the Lord in prayer, and he was reminded of the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  After everyone had eaten, Jesus sent the disciples out into the crowd saying, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing will be lost” (John 6:12).  “Gather the fragments” Helms kept saying to himself, and he thought about how all the people lived in the wealthier parts of town with all their extra clothes and food.  He knew what they had, because that is where he used to live. 

     Helms decided on a plan.  Every day he took a couple of gunny sacks and rode the streetcar out into the fancier parts of town.  There he would go door to door and tell people about the needy people at his door every day, and about what Jesus said to his disciples in John 6:12.  He found that most people had something they could give, and so each day he would get his sacks full and then take the streetcar back to his church.  There, he would spread the clothes and food out on tables in the auditorium and invite the people in to help themselves.

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     This, however, created another problem.  Helms was disappointed to see how the poor people acted, greedily grabbing all they could, pushing and shoving like wild animals.  He learned that for the sake of order and for self-respect, the poor needed to pay something for what they got.  And, if they had no money, Helms would put them to work to earn some.

     Donated items often needed to be refurbished before they could be sold, so women could mend clothes, men could fix furniture, and all could work at stocking and managing the growing inventory.  They were then paid (if there was not enough cash, they were given vouchers), and they could use what they earned to buy what they needed.  

     Thus began what is now known as Goodwill Industries.  Helms expanded his vision to stores throughout the United States, and then around the world.  Today, along with the distribution of used clothing, Goodwill provides disabled and socially disadvantaged people with employment, job training, job placement, and vocational evaluation and counseling.

     In one of his last letters before he died in 1942, Edgar Helms wrote: “I have often been referred to as the founder of Goodwill Industries.  This is not strictly true.  The originator of Goodwill Industries was Jesus, who spoke long ago on a Galilean hillside and commanded his disciples to ‘Gather up the fragments so that nothing will be lost.’”

     Edgar Helms died in Boston on December 23. 1942.  At his funeral, Bishop Oxnam spoke these words in his eulogy: “Helms was blessed with a fine mind, a great heart and a strong will.  His unusual business ability, passionate devotion, and physical strength enabled him to serve his fellow man, who were uninterested in charity, but yearned for a chance.”

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John 6:11-13  —  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.  He did the same with the fish.  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing will be lost.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

James 2:15-17  —  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Matthew 25:40  —  (Jesus said), “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

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Almighty God, look upon those who are in need but cannot work, or who lack employment and search for it in vain; on those who struggle to meet exacting claims with inadequate resources; on all who move in insecurity attended by worry or despair.  Stand by them, O God in their deprivations and dilemmas, and guide them as they try to solve their problems; let them come to open doors of opportunity or refuge; and so quicken and extend the world’s concern for all those people that everyone maybe ensured a livelihood and safety from the bitterness of want, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Miles Lowell Yates (1890-1956) American Anglican clergyman

1410) A Match Made in Heaven

     Twenty-three year old Catherine Mumford was attracted to the new young minister of her church, Pastor William Booth; and he was attracted to her.  But Catherine was not so sure it would be a good match.  It was obvious to her from the young preacher’s sermons that he was not as well educated as she was, nor did he know his Bible as well as she did.  She had been sick often in her childhood and youth, and so she had spent almost all her life reading.  It was said that she read the Bible from cover to cover eight times before she was twelve years old.

     Catherine was therefore bound to be more educated than most people, and she knew she must not let that stand in the way of getting a husband, or she would never find one.  So she did agree to the young minister’s invitations to spend time together, and before long he asked her to marry him.  She said she wasn’t sure yet if it was God’s will, but she agreed to put it to a test.

     Catherine suggested using a method that the great John Wesley sometimes used (a method few would recommend).  They would set a Bible on a table on its spine and let it fall open; and then be guided by the first passage they would see.  They did that and the Bible fell open to Ezekiel 37, a chapter best known for its description of Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones.  At first it looked like the passage would not apply to the question of their marriage, but then their eyes were drawn to these words of the Lord in verse 19:  “The two shall be as one in my hand.” Though their method was an unreliable one, they believed that it was indeed God’s Word for them, and in 1855 they were married.

     They worked as a team in their ministry, with Catherine even beginning to do some of the preaching.  They later moved to London, and there started to work among the poor.  Her preaching and their unorthodox style of working with the poor of the city led to too many disagreements with the Methodist church headquarters.  They were  soon forced to go out on their own.

     Catherine’s intelligence and William’s energy made them a good team, and soon their work was expanding.  Others joined them, and before long they had several churches and their own new denomination.

     They began to call themselves the Salvation Army, and in a few decades their work expanded to all around the world.  Today yet they are among the most efficient and effective relief and service organizations anywhere.  

     And they became a team after their Bible just happen to fall open to a single verse through which God spoke to them.  God can sometimes use even our most questionable methods.

Catherine and William on their wedding day, June 16, 1855

William at Catherine’s (1829-1890) side as she was dying in 1890.  He lived another 22 years (1829-1912).

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“The Salvation Army is by far the most effective organization in the United States.  No one even comes close is respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication, and putting money to maximum use.”

–Peter Drucker, Management expert and author, as quoted in Forbes Magazine.

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Ezekiel 37:19b  —  “…They will become one in my hand.”

Psalm 37:23  —  The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.

Proverbs 3:5-6  —  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

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Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

–Psalm 25:4-5