1450) “God, Give Me Another Chance”

Voice of the Martyrs magazine, April 2017, page 11, (www.persecution.com)

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     As Roberto Santo Gomez looked back on his life, he felt like he hadn’t amounted to much.  He was empty inside and his heart was filled with hate.  As a member of the leftist Zapatista rebel group, his work involved shaking down people for money, running drugs, and fighting the government.  But that hadn’t given his life meaning, and now he felt trapped by the Zapatista cause.

     After considering his options, Roberto decided he would go north to the United States and try to make some money.  As many others had before him, Roberto hopped the train that runs from Chiapas in southern Mexico to the U.S. border.

     The trip didn’t go as planned, however.  Roberto fell from the train, severing his left arm and leaving him with multiple fractures.  As he lay on the ground in agonizing pain, he suddenly recalled the words of a street preacher he’d once heard in a park, and his thoughts turned to God.

     “God, if you exist, give me another chance,” he prayed.  “Give me life and I’ll get up and I’ll look for you and I will speak about you.”

     God answered Roberto’s prayers.  He survived the accident, returned to his home and, true to his word, became an itinerant preacher.  Roberto is still poor by earthly standards, but he lives by faith and survives on the generosity of those he meets.  “When I hear him preach, it touches my heart because he preaches with such passion,” a local Voice of the Martyrs worker said.

     The street preacher from Roberto’s past had such an effect on him that he decided to do the same kind of work.  He shares God’s love in parks and on street corners with anyone who will listen.  Though he is often rejected or ignored, he knows from personal experience that God’s Word is planting seeds.

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Lamentations 3:19-23  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Jonah 2:2  —  In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

Romans 10:17  —  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

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1449) Life is Short, So…?

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     “I am not happy, and life is short, so I need to go after this one chance at happiness,” he said, explaining why he was about to do something that was obviously wrong and stupid; that is, obvious to everyone but himself.

     “Yes,” said his friend, “life is short, so whatever it is you are going through, you have to do what is right and put up with it just a little longer.  Life is short, remember?  The misery will soon come to an end.  Stay on the good path and in a little while, when this life is over, you will hear the Lord say to you, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’  But if you get on the wrong path you will, in a little while after this short life, hear the Lord say to you, “Depart from me.’  And you don’t want that, my friend.”

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I Peter 1:24-25a  —  People are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.

Amos 5:14  —  Seek good, not evil, that you may live.  Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you.

Matthew 25:21  —  His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant!…  Come and share your Master’s happiness.”

Matthew 25:41  —  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’

Psalm 90:10-11a  —  Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.  If only we knew the power of your anger!

James 4:13-17  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.  All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

 

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Dear Lord Jesus, mercifully keep me from every act which may deprive me of the sight of you as soon as my trial time in this life is over, or mar the fullness of my joy when the end of days shall come.  Amen.

–William Gladstone  (1809-1898), Prime Minister of Great Britain (adapted)

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Lord, take my hand and lead me
upon life’s way;
direct, protect, and feed me
from day to day.
Without your grace and favor
I go astray,
so take my hand, O Savior,
and lead the way.

–Verse one of a hymn by Julie von Hausmann  (1826-1901)

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PSALM 90:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

1448) Who Will Help the Homeless?

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By Eric Metaxas, on Breakpoint Daily, March 28, 2017  (www.breakpoint.org)

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     In his new book, The Benedict Option, my friend Rod Dreher makes a sobering and sadly accurate claim: “Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage, have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.”

     Rod says that it is inevitable that believers in Jesus Christ will lose their jobs— some already have— and face other forms of bullying if they don’t go along.  Many in our increasingly secular culture want to chase Christians out of the public square altogether.

     Among other things, that would be a disaster for half a million homeless people.

     According to a new study out of Baylor University, faith-based organizations provide 58 percent of emergency shelter beds for the homeless in eleven cities across the nation.  In Omaha, faith-based organizations (or FBOs) provide a whopping 90 percent of the available emergency shelter beds.  In Houston, it’s 79 percent; in Indianapolis, 78 percent; in Baltimore, 74 percent.  So where would all these homeless people go if Christians who do acts of compassion out of a faith perspective are no longer around?

     But it’s not just the quantity of work that Christians do for the homeless day in and day out.  It’s also the quality of the work.  Baylor researchers Byron Johnson and William Wubbenhorst found that FBOs are “at the forefront of innovation” in helping to transform homeless people and their families through a variety of education, healthcare, job training, and addiction recovery services.

     Many government programs see the primary cause of homelessness as a simple lack of affordable housing.  Most FBOs, however, know the problem usually runs a lot deeper, and they do a better job of getting to know their clients and what they really need, leading to better outcomes for their clients and their cities.  Many of the homeless, for example, have no meaningful relationships.  FBOs can begin giving them the relational capital they need.

     Jim Reese, who is the president and CEO of Atlanta Mission, which serves 1,000 homeless people every day, told Christianity Today that “Instead of being a kitchen cook, you’d be out at the tables with the people.  How do you change lives?  It comes from creating a relationship with them and building trust.”

     As Byron Johnson notes, “In most cases, people become homeless due to a range of complex personal and societal factors, not just because they cannot afford a home.  Our conclusions demonstrate that faith-based organizations are in a unique position to treat the systemic issues that create homelessness to develop sustainable solutions for both individuals and municipalities.”

     Indeed.      I’ve seen the same dynamic at work at the pregnancy care ministry run by my wife right here in New York.  Yes, relationships matter— and so does faith.

     And this isn’t just touchy-feely talk.  The Baylor study estimates that FBOs create $9.42 in taxpayer savings for every dollar spent by the government (in grants to these FBOs).  It also shows that the 11 cities in the study achieved around $119 million in tax savings during the first three years after the faith-based Residential Recovery and Job Readiness programs were implemented.  So faith is not only good for the soul, it’s good for taxpayers and the bottom line.

     But according to Christianity Today, churches and other FBOs can face hurdles from local governments and communities as they try to provide hope for the homeless—everything from ordinances restricting the distribution of food to attempts to regulate shelters out of existence.  Given all that faith-based organizations do for the homeless— and all the money they save taxpayers— that’s just crazy.

     So the next time someone tells you that society would be better off without Christian influence, do not believe it.  Then go volunteer to help at, or at least write a check to, your local faith-based organization that helps the homeless.

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To read about the Baylor study of Faith-Based Organizations go to:

Faith-Based Organizations Shoulder Majority of Crucial Services and Develop Creative Solutions for Homelessness, New Baylor University Study Says
Baylor Media Communications | Baylor.edu | February 1, 2017

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Why a Christian Approach to Fighting Homelessness Pays Off
Kate Shellnut | Christianity Today | March 6, 2017

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Luke 9:58  —  Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

James 1:27  —  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Hebrews 13:2  —  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

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God of compassion, your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus, whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross:  we hold before you those who are homeless.  Draw near and comfort them in spirit, and bless those who work to provide them with shelter, food and friendship.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

–www.churchofengland.org

1447) An Old Married Couple (part two)

ILYAS, a short story by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

     (…continued)     ‘May I speak to him?’ asked the guest.  ‘I should like to ask him about his life.’

     ‘Why not?’ replied the master, and he called from the kibítka in which they were sitting:  ‘Grandfather, come in and have a cup of kumiss with us, and call your wife here also.’

     Ilyás entered with his wife; and after exchanging greetings with his master and the guests, he repeated a prayer, and seated himself near the door.  His wife passed in behind the curtain and sat down with her mistress.

     A cap of kumiss was handed to Ilyás; he wished the guests and his master good health, bowed, drank a little, and put down the cup.

     ‘Well, Daddy,’ said the guest who had wished to speak to him, ‘I suppose you feel rather sad at the sight of us.  It must remind you of your former prosperity, and of your present sorrows.’

     Ilyás smiled, and said:  ‘If I were to tell you what is happiness and what is misfortune, you would not believe me.  You had better ask my wife.  She is a woman, and what is in her heart is on her tongue.  She will tell you the whole truth.’

     The guest turned towards the curtain.  ‘Well, Granny,’ he cried, ‘tell me how your former happiness compares with your present misfortune.’

     And Sham-Shemagi answered from behind the curtain:  ‘This is what I think about it:  My old man and I lived for fifty years seeking happiness and not finding it; and it is only now, these last two years, since we had nothing left and have lived as laborers, that we have found real happiness, and we wish for nothing better than our present lot.’

     The guests were astonished, and so was the master; he even rose and drew the curtain back, so as to see the old woman’s face.  There she stood with her arms folded, looking at her old husband, and smiling; and he smiled back at her.  The old woman went on:  ‘I speak the truth and do not jest.  For half a century we sought for happiness, and as long as we were rich we never found it.  Now that we have nothing left, and have taken service as laborers, we have found such happiness that we want nothing better.’

     ‘But in what does your happiness consist?’ asked the guest.

     ‘Why, in this,’ she replied, ‘when we were rich my husband and I had so many cares that we had no time to talk to one another, or to think of our souls, or to pray to God.   We had visitors, and had to consider what food to set before them, and what presents to give them, lest they should speak ill of us.  When they left, we had to look after our laborers who were always trying to shirk work and get the best food, while we wanted to get all we could out of them.  So we sinned.  Then we were in fear lest a wolf should kill a foal or a calf, or thieves steal our horses.  We lay awake at night, worrying lest the ewes should overlie their lambs, and we got up again and again to see that all was well.  One thing attended to, another care would spring up:  how, for instance, to get enough fodder for the winter.  And besides that, my old man and I used to disagree.  He would say we must do so and so, and I would differ from him; and then we disputed — sinning again.  So we passed from one trouble to another, from one sin to another, and found no happiness.’

     ‘Well, and now?’

     ‘Now, when my husband and I wake in the morning, we always have a loving word for one another and we live peacefully, having nothing to quarrel about.  We have no care but how best to serve our master.  We work as much as our strength allows and do it with a will, that our master may not lose but profit by us.  When we come in, dinner or supper is ready and there is kumiss to drink.  We have fuel to burn when it is cold and we have our fur cloak.  And we have time to talk, time to think of our souls, and time to pray.  For fifty years we sought happiness, but only now at last have we found it.’

     The guests laughed.  But Ilyás said:  ‘Do not laugh, friends.  It is not a matter for jesting — it is the truth of life.  We also were foolish at first, and wept at the loss of our wealth; but now God has shown us the truth, and we tell it, not for our own consolation, but for your good.’

     And the Mullah said:  ‘That is a wise speech.  Ilyás has spoken the exact truth.  The same is said in Holy Writ.’

     And the guests ceased laughing and became thoughtful.  (1885)

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Proverbs 15:16-17  —  Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.  Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

Proverbs 11:2  —  When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. 

Ecclesiastes 9:17  —  The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.

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A PRAYER FOR A HAPPY LIFE:
Make my life a happy one, O Lord…  Not by shielding me from sorrow and pain, but by strengthening me to bear it if it comes.
Not by taking hardship from me, but by taking all cowardice and fear from my heart as I meet hardships.
Not by making my path easy, but by making me sturdy enough to tread any path.
Not by granting unbroken sunshine, but by keeping my face bright even in the shadows.
Not by making my life always pleasant, but by showing me where others need me most and by making me zealous to be there and to help…
God, make my life a happy one. Amen.   –source unknown

1446) An Old Married Couple (part one)

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ILYAS, a short story by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

     There once lived in Oufá a man named Ilyás.  His father, who died a year after he had found his son a wife, did not leave him much property.  Ilyás then had only seven mares, two cows, and about a score of sheep.  He was a good manager, however, and soon began to acquire more.  He and his wife worked from morn till night; rising earlier than others and going later to bed; and his possessions increased year by year.  Living in this way, Ilyás little by little acquired great wealth.  At the end of thirty-five years he had 200 horses, 150 head of cattle, and 1,200 sheep.  Hired laborers tended his flocks and herds, and hired women milked his mares and cows, and made kumiss (kumiss is a fermented drink prepared from mare’s milk), butter and cheese.  Ilyás had abundance of everything, and every one in the district envied him.  They said of him: “Ilyás is a fortunate man: he has plenty of everything.  This world must be a pleasant place for him.”

     People of position heard of Ilyás and sought his acquaintance.  Visitors came to him from afar; and he welcomed every one, and gave them food and drink.  Whoever might come, there was always kumiss, tea, sherbet, and mutton to set before them.  Whenever visitors arrived a sheep would be killed, or sometimes two; and if many guests came he would even slaughter a mare for them.

     Ilyás had three children:  two sons and a daughter; and he married them all off.  While he was poor, his sons worked with him, and looked after the flocks and herds themselves; but when he grew rich they got spoiled and one of them took to drink.  The eldest was killed in a brawl; and the younger, who had married a self-willed woman, ceased to obey his father, and they could not live together any more.  So they parted, and Ilyás gave his son a house and some of the cattle; and this diminished his wealth.  Soon after that, a disease broke out among Ilyás’s sheep, and many died.  Then followed a bad harvest, and the hay crop failed; and many cattle died that winter.  Then the Kirghíz captured his best herd of horses; and Ilyás’s property dwindled away.  It became smaller and smaller, while at the same time his strength grew less; till, by the time he was seventy years old, he had begun to sell his furs, carpets, saddles, and tents.  At last he had to part with his remaining cattle, and found himself face to face with poverty.  Before he knew how it had happened, he had lost everything, and in their old age he and his wife had to go into service.  Ilyás had nothing left, except the clothes on his back, a fur cloak, a cup, his indoor shoes and overshoes, and his wife, Sham-Shemagi, who also was old by this time.  The son who had parted from him had gone into a far country, and his daughter was dead, so that there was no one to help the old couple.

     Their neighbor, Muhammad-Shah, took pity on them.  Muhammad-Shah was neither rich nor poor, but lived comfortably, and was a good man.  He remembered Ilyás’s hospitality, and pitying him, said:  “Come and live with me, Ilyás, you and your old woman.  In summer you can work in my melon-garden as much as your strength allows, and in winter feed my cattle; and Sham-Shemagi shall milk my mares and make kumiss.  I will feed and clothe you both.  When you need anything, tell me, and you shall have it.”

     Ilyás thanked his neighbor, and he and his wife took service with Muhammad-Shah as laborers.  At first the position seemed hard to them, but they got used to it, and lived on, working as much as their strength allowed.  Muhammad-Shah found it was to his advantage to keep such people, because, having been masters themselves, they knew how to manage and were not lazy, but did all the work they could.  Yet it grieved Muhammad-Shah to see people brought so low who had been of such high standing.

     It happened once that some of Muhammad-Shah’s relatives came from a great distance to visit him, and a Mullah came too.  Muhammad-Shah told Ilyás to catch a sheep and kill it.  Ilyás skinned the sheep, and boiled it, and sent it in to the guests.  The guests ate the mutton, had some tea, and then began drinking kumiss.  As they were sitting with their host on down cushions on a carpet, conversing and sipping kumiss from their cups, Ilyás, having finished his work passed by the open door.  Muhammad-Shah, seeing him pass, said to one of the guests:  “Did you notice that old man who passed just now?”

     “Yes,” said the visitor, “what is there remarkable about him?”

     “Only this — that he was once the richest man among us,” replied the host.  “His name is Ilyás.  You may have heard of him.”

     ‘Of course I have heard of him,’ the guest answered.   ‘I never saw him before, but his fame has spread far and wide.’

     “Yes, and now he has nothing left,” said Muhammad-Shah, “and he lives with me as my laborer, and his old woman is here too — she milks the mares.”

     The guest was astonished:  he clicked with his tongue, shook his head, and said:  “Fortune turns like a wheel.  One man it lifts, another it sets down!  Does not the old man grieve over all he has lost?”

     “Who can tell?  He lives quietly and peacefully, and works well.”

     “May I speak to him?” asked the guest.   (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 7:10  —  Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”  For it is not wise to ask such questions. 

Ecclesiastes 2:18-19  —  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?  Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun.  This too is meaningless.

Proverbs 10:25  —  When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.

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O God, who by the meek endurance of your Son beat down the pride of the old enemy:  Help us, we pray, rightly to treasure in our hearts what our Lord has, of his goodness, endured for our sakes; that after his example, we may bear with patience whatsoever things are adverse to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   —Book of Common Prayer, (alt.)

1445) Cotton Patch Wisdom

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Farmer, pastor, theologian Clarence Jordan, author of the Cotton Patch New Testament

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From The Sermon on the Mount, by Clarence Jordan (1912-1969), pages 102-3.

      It is not judging, but self-righteous judging against which Jesus warns his disciples.  Honest, sincere judging is good, but hypocritical judging is perilous.  Nothing will destroy a fellowship more quickly than to have within it someone who carries around a folding judgement-seat which makes it possible for him to pass judgment on another person anywhere, any time.   He goes on the theory that he makes himself bigger by making someone else smaller.  He has a high regard for his ability to analyze other people and their motives, and he is utterly incensed if someone seeks to reverse his judicial opinions.

      But usually his judgments reveal his own true nature, for a man’s opinions of his neighbors are a reliable index of his own character.  At no time does his real self become more evident than when he is sitting on his folding judgment-seat giving his opinions of others.  A liar will invariably conclude that most men are like himself– liars; it is the opinion of a thief that they are all thieves; while an honest man is quite certain that until proven otherwise, all others are honest.

      There is an old story about a man looking for a place to settle.  He drove into a rural community and inquired of an old farmer what kind of people lived there.  In reply, the farmer asked, “Stranger, what kind of people live in the community you came from?”

      “They are bad people,” he said. “Gossips, slanderers, and cheapskates.”  

     The old man shook his head.  “You might as well move on,” he said, “because that’s the kind of people who live here, too.”

      Later on, another man came through seeking a place to live, and he asked the same old farmer about the people.  “How were the people where you came from?” inquired the farmer.

      “Wonderful, simply wonderful,” he said.  “They were thoughtful, kind, and loving.  I surely hated to leave them.”

      “Unload,” beamed the farmer, “because that’s just the kind of people you’ll find around here.”

      Not only may others size up a person by the judgment with which he judges others, but a man’s condemnation of others can become his own most severe punishment.  For instance, here is a person who is a slanderous gossip.  His conclusion is that since he gossips, all men gossip.  So when he sees several of his acquaintances together, he is quite sure that they are doing what he would be doing– gossiping.  His guilt and inflated ego combine to make him believe they are gossiping about him, even though they may really be talking about the weather.  He has had this feeling so frequently that he is raw and extremely sensitive and always touchy about everything.  Consequently, nothing is capable of inflicting more torture upon him than gossip– about him.  Whether the gossip is real or imaginary is of no consequence; the punishment is the same.

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Matthew 7:1-5  —  (Jesus said), “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

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O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through your Son Jesus.  Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and through our struggle and confusion, work to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978, (prayer #177)

1444) Ben Franklin’s Request for Prayer

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Benjamin Franklin  (1706-1790) (and death mask)

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     The Constitutional Convention of 1787 held its meetings in secret, and its members were expected to keep the details of their discussions and debates confidential.  The official papers of the Convention sat in the State Department offices, untouched, until 1818.  When finally released to the public, it was clear that tempers flared often in the intense debates as the structure of the new nation was being decided upon.  

     It was during one of the most divisive of these debates that the elder statesman, eighty-one year old Benjamin Franklin, offered his famous appeal for harmony and conciliation, including the suggestion to pray for God’s intervention.  The authoritative source concerning the convention is the notes of James Madison.  Included in his notes was a copy of the speech Franklin made, written in Franklin’s own handwriting.  This is that speech Franklin gave on July 28, 1787:

Mr. President:  The small progress we have made after four or five weeks of close attendance and continual reasonings with each other, with our different sentiments on almost every question… is, methinks, a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding.  We indeed seem to feel our own want of political wisdom, so we have been running about in search of it.  We have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which, having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution, now no longer exist.  And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us; how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?  In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection.  Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered.  All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor.  To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity.  And have we now forgotten that powerful friend?  I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth– that God governs in the affairs of men.  And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?  We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labor in vain that build it.”  I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.  We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages.  And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move, that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of the City be requested to officiate in that service.

     Where are the politicians, or the pastors, who can speak like that today?

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Psalm 127:1  —  Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

Matthew 10:29  —  (Jesus said), “ Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.”

Matthew 12:25  —  Knowing their thoughts, (Jesus) said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.”

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O thou eternal God, who dost rule the affairs of men even as thou rulest nature, inspire the hearts of all citizens of our beloved country by the memory of the blessed heritage of a freedom won through the devotion and loyalty of our forefathers.  We are humbled by the knowledge that thou hast protected us in this freedom throughout the years of our national history.  Grant us grace to acknowledge the responsibility these blessings place upon us to be zealous for righteousness, justice, and equity among men of every nation, that free people may honor and obey thee forever.  AMEN.

–General Synod’s Committee on Liturgics, Evangelical and Reformed Church

1443) Prayers at the Twilight of Life

Arthur O. Roberts

From Prayers at Twilight, by Arthur O. Roberts, (1923-2016), 2003, Barclay Press.  Roberts wrote a book Exploring Heaven to describe what the Bible and great Christian thinkers have said about heaven.  As he was writing that, he was also writing prayers about the end of this life and the anticipation of the life to come in heaven.  Here are some of the poems/prayers from the collection of them published in Prayers at Twilight.

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A REASONABLE REQUIREMENT

My friend says one should be content

with this life, make the most of it,

and not whine for second chances.

I pondered this, and then I thought

about this guy wrongly imprisoned, 

locked up twenty years, on death row

part of the time.  I think of children

blown to bits by terrorists, people 

starved in gulags, gassed by Nazis,

people gunned down by drug dealers,

innocent and helpless civilians sacrificed

as ‘collateral damage’ in political wars,

and it struck me that hope for heaven

is a reasonable requirement for justice,

as well as a gift of your love, Lord.

***

THROUGH THIS TUNNEL

Lord, I’ve got Alzheimer’s

I don’t know my own family

sometimes, and can’t tell the nurse

who our president is.  But I know you!

Lead me through this tunnel, Lord,

and in heaven make me whole again.

***

WHO’S RIGHT, LORD

Lord, yesterday my neighbor and I discussed death.

A heart attack put him in a serious mood.

He’s a retired professor and legislator.

His affluent children support art museums,

his grandkids trek the globe for green causes.

Mac says he’s ready to bow out gracefully, 

content to let his influence live on.

Claims it’s the noble thing to do.

I don’t buy this.

From what I learned in Sunday school

I figured on a more personal afterlife.

Besides, I don’t have kids, bright or otherwise.

Who’s right, Lord?

***

OOPS, GOD!

In my alumni magazine letters writers

argue about religion.  Recently one alumna

claimed human thought has evolved

in every area but religion.  We must not,

said she, let the Bible, or even Jesus,

hinder evolutionary progress

that brings better religious ideas.

Lord, I’m weary of these attacks

on Christian beliefs and believers.

Who does this gal think she is, telling me

in effect, sorry old timer, but we now know

these Bible stories aren’t true.  Well, when

twenty/thirty years later she faces death

as I do now, will she believe the same thing?

Or will she say, oops, God, I guess

my ideas weren’t so good after all.

***

I’D LIKE THAT!

Lord, I don’t travel much anymore.

Went to the Columbia ice fields last year.

But most of the scenes I view now

are inside my head.  Some are vivid,

like seeing that dirty trench near St. Lo,

the red blood spurting from my leg.

and that German boy’s face–

before I blew it away.  I never talk

to anyone about this, except you, Lord.

Maybe I’ll meet that boy in heaven.

That would be okay.  We’ll recognize 

and forgive each other, and maybe you

will give us constructive work to do 

together, somewhere in the cosmos.

Yeah, I’d like that…

***

I WISH THEY WOULD LEARN

When I was young we kids were afraid of hell.

Now, it seems, young folks are afraid of heaven.

They can’t imagine anything more exciting

than their affluent lifestyle.  Skiing every Sunday.

Shopping at the mall.  TV celebrity shows.

Making scads of money, getting stock options.

They don’t fear you, Lord, they ignore you.

Maybe a depression would do them good.

Or a service stint in Somalia.  I know, Lord,

when you’re young  heaven talk is taboo, 

too gloomy, too threatening.  Was for me once.

But I wish they would learn soon that fear

of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

***

WHILE MY LIFE LINGERS

Lord, the last enemy is death, 

that’s for sure.  Well, it’s combat time

for me.  Fight with me.  Oh, crucified Jesus

help me bear the penetrating pain

and this slow, sad phase of parting

from dear ones whom I love.

Share with me, Lord, your triumph

over sin and death while my life lingers,

then walk me through the heavenly door.

***

MOSTLY ABOUT JESUS

Lord, scenarios about heaven make no sense to me.

How can predators live harmoniously with prey?

How can dead bodies, or their ashes, reassemble?

How can there be cycles of life without death?

How can there be both time and eternity?

But then I gaze at the Milky Way on a warm night.

I hear waves crashing rhythmically against the shore,

I ponder the incredible spread of intelligent life

across planet earth, even if not always used wisely.

But mostly I think about Jesus, heaven’s great sign,

about his redeeming death, and his resurrection.

I hear him say: “I go to prepare a place for you.”

Mind then yields to spirit, and my spirit yields to you.

“Yes, Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

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John 14:1-6  —  (Jesus said), “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.”

Mark 9:24b  —  “I believe; help my unbelief!”

1442) Who Says Murder is Wrong?

MAYBE THAT’S JUST YOUR OPINION!

Another video from Prager University (see yesterday’s Emailmeditation for more information about Prager U.)

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If the above link does not work go to:

https://www.prageru.com/courses/religionphilosophy/if-there-no-god-murder-isnt-wrong

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“IF THERE IS NO GOD, MURDER ISN’T WRONG”  By Dennis Prager (transcript)

Do you believe that good and evil exist?

The answer to this question separates Judeo-Christian values from secular values.

Let me offer the clearest possible example: murder.

Is murder wrong?  Is it evil?  Nearly everyone would answer yes.  But now I’ll pose a much harder question: How do you know?

I am sure that you think that murder is wrong.  But how do you know?

If I asked you how you know that that the earth is round, you would show me photographs from outer space, or offer me measurable data.  But what photographs could you show, what measurements could you provide, that prove that murder or rape or theft is wrong?

The fact is…you can’t.  There are scientific facts, but without God there are no moral facts.

In a secular world, there can only be opinions about morality.  They may be personal opinions or society’s opinion.  But only opinions.  Every atheist philosopher I have read or debated on this subject has acknowledged that if there is no God, there is no objective morality.

Judeo-Christian values are predicated on the existence of a God of morality.  In other words, only if there is a God who says murder is wrong, is murder wrong.  Otherwise, all morality is opinion.

The entire Western world – what we call Western Civilization – is based on this understanding.

Now, let me make two things clear.

First, this doesn’t mean that if you don’t believe in God, you can’t be a good person.  There are plenty of kind and moral individuals who don’t believe in God and Judeo-Christian values.  But the existence of these good people has nothing – nothing – to do with the question of whether good and evil really exist if there is no God.

Second, there have been plenty of people who believed in God who were not good people; indeed, more than a few have been evil – and have even committed evil in God’s name.  The existence of God doesn’t ensure people will do good.  I wish it did.  The existence of God only ensures that good and evil objectively exist and are not merely opinions.

Without God, we therefore end up with what is known as moral relativism – meaning that morality is not absolute, but only relative to the individual or to the society.  Without God, the words “good” and “evil” are just another way of saying “I like” and “I don’t like.”  If there is no God, the statement “Murder is evil” is the same as the statement “I don’t like murder.”

Now, many will argue that you don’t need moral absolutes; people won’t murder because they don’t want to be murdered.  But that argument is just wishful thinking.  Hitler, Stalin, and Mao didn’t want to be murdered, but that hardly stopped them from murdering about a hundred million people.

It is not a coincidence that the rejection of Judeo-Christian values in the Western world – by Nazism and Communism – led to the murder of all these innocent people.

It is also not a coincidence that the first societies in the world to abolish slavery – an institution that existed in every known society in human history – were Western societies rooted in Judeo-Christian values.  And so were the first societies to affirm universal human rights; to emancipate women; and to proclaim the value of liberty.

Today, the rejection of Judeo-Christian values and moral absolutes has led to a world of moral confusion.

In the New York Times, in March 2015, a professor of philosophy confirmed this.

He wrote: “What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun?  Would you be surprised?  I was.”

The professor then added: “The overwhelming majority of college freshmen view moral claims as mere opinions.”

So, then, whatever you believe about God or religion, here is a fact:

Without a God who is the source of morality, morality is just a matter of opinion.  So, if you want a good world, the death of Judeo-Christian values should frighten you.

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German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) has had a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history.  He has been admired by atheists the world over for his eloquent and obnoxious disdain for Christianity.  But he was a consistent atheist, following it to its logical conclusions, and correctly observed that rejecting God yet embracing Biblical values is illogical.  He said:

“When you give up Christian faith, you pull the rug out from under your right to Christian morality as well… you smash the whole system.”

Image result for friedrich nietzsche

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Exodus 20:13  —  You shall not murder.

Deuteronomy 6:17a  —  Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God…

Deuteronomy 5:32  —  So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.

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PRAYER BASED ON THE COMMANDMENT AGAINST MURDER FROM LUTHER’S SMALL CATECHISM:

O God, you have forbidden us to kill:
Lord, grant that we so fear and love you, that we never do our neighbor any bodily harm nor ever cause him any suffering, but rather, that we help and befriend him in every way.

1441) The Benefits of Belief

Prager University, founded by Dennis Prager, is an on-line university consisting of dozens of five minute, clear and concise, video ‘courses.’  Many are political, some are religious, all are thought provoking, and all are free.  You may view them all at:

http://www.prageru.com

This course is by Peter Kreeft, a thinker and writer I have long admired.  Kreeft is a philosophy professor at Boston College and a Roman Catholic.  In this course he describes “The Benefits of Belief.”  Watch the video or read the transcript.

LINK TO THIS VIDEO:

http://www.prageru.com/courses/religionphilosophy/benefits-belief

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In this Prager University course, I want to focus not on the evidence for God’s existence, but on the benefits of belief.

If God exists, then the world didn’t just evolve by chance, but by deliberate design.  There’s an Artist behind this incredible work of art—this big and beautiful world.

If God exists, we’re living in a great story, an epic like “The Lord of the Rings,” with real heroes and heroic tasks.  Ultimately, all the twists and turns of this epic narrative will be paid off, everything will make sense.  It will even have a happy ending, not necessarily, or even likely, in our own lifetime—even Moses didn’t get into the Promised Land—but over the grand course of time in an afterlife, which exists as surely as God exists.

If God exists, the presence of evil, hard as it is to accept, makes sense.  God allows it for a reason—namely, to preserve our free will.  And God will reconcile all injustices in the end.  If there is no God, life is one big crapshoot.

If God does exist, morality is a real, objective feature of the world.  If there is no God, morality is just the rules we make up for this little game of life we play.

If God exists, love is the nature of an eternal reality.  If there is no God, love is just a fleeting feeling, no more than a bunch of chemical and neurological interactions.

If God exists, you are of infinite value.  He knows you as a parent knows his child.  He’s accessible to you.  If there is no God, each of us is as insignificant as a rock on an unknown planet.

If God exists, death is conquered because if there is a God there is a reality outside of space and time.  If there is no God, there is nothing immortal, and all the good things in life are destroyed forever.  You, and everyone you love, and everything you think matters are all consigned to oblivion.  If there is no God, life is pointless.  Everything we’ve done and lived for will ultimately be in vain.

Can I prove with an absolute certainty that God exists?  I can make the case that overwhelming evidence suggests that he does.  But no I can’t prove that He exists with absolute certainty.  That’s likely part of His plan.  God deliberately doesn’t give us absolute proof so that we’re free to choose or not to choose to believe in Him.

So which way do you want to go?

Be honest.  Doesn’t your heart at least hope that there is a good God, a transcendent Validator of love and all the highest human values?  Of course it does.  Why would anyone not wish that life has some ultimate purpose; that good and evil are real; that there is ultimate justice; that our love for others means something?

If you choose to live as if there is a God—even if you are not sure there is a God—you lose nothing and you gain everything.

Religious Christians and Jews are happier, live longer, and are more charitable than their less observant or secular fellow citizens.  These are not my opinions.  These are the findings of a multitude of scientific studies.

If you have been an atheist for a while, it may be difficult for you to change your thinking, even if you find some merit in the many rational arguments for God’s existence.  But you can change your behavior.  You can live as if God’s exists, even if you hold doubts.  Why not?  As I said, you lose nothing and you have everything to gain.

This behavioral approach is far from new.  The Jews have long had a saying, “We will do, and then we will understand,” which acknowledges that action often precedes understanding.  So why not begin with an action?  Why not pray the prayer of the skeptic?

“God, if you exist, you must know that I’m not a believer.  So, please, God, give me the gift of faith, in your time and in your way.  I want to believe whatever is true.  Amen.”

If you say that and mean it, and give it some time, be prepared, because He will not ignore that prayer.

Go on, say it.  Find a private place and say it.  Your Creator is listening.

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Psalm 25:4  —  Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.

Job 6:24  —  Teach me, and I will be quiet; show me where I have been wrong.

Mark 9:24b  —  I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

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THE PRAYER OF THE SKEPTIC:

God, if you exist, you must know that I’m not a believer.  So, please, God, give me the gift of faith, in your time and in your way.  I want to believe whatever is true.  Amen.