1480) “God is Going to Have Some Explaining to Do”

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     Bob was 58 years old when learned that he had ALS.  Over the next five years the disease took his ability to walk, talk, and breathe on his own; and then it took his life.  After I heard that Bob died, I was thinking about that image of Jesus coming back to get us and take us to be with him in his heavenly home.  I have no idea how that will work or what that will look like, but the meeting Jesus part of it made me think about something.   If I were Bob meeting Jesus in person after all that time of suffering, I would want to ask, “Lord, why did I have to go through all that?”

     I thought of that because I was Bob’s pastor, and in my one of my last visits with Bob, I told him a story about Mother Teresa.  Suffering anywhere raises questions about the existence of a loving God, and few people saw as much of suffering humanity as Mother Teresa did in her long life.  A reporter once asked her about that, thinking he might put her on the spot; perhaps expecting some naive and simplistic answer that he could sneer at.  The reporter said, “Mother Teresa, with such illness, misery, suffering, and death all around you, how can you still believe in a God of love?”  Mother Teresa replied in her kind and calm way, “Yes, yes,” she said, “that is a very good question, and when I get to heaven, God is going to have some explaining to do.”

     That is a profound and wonderful answer.  Mother Teresa does three things in that brief and simple reply.  First of all, she affirms her belief in God, and secondly, she affirms her belief in heaven, that place where there will be no suffering.  And then, at the same time, she affirms the question.  She admits to wondering about the same thing, and then says she will be expecting an explanation from God.  Those few words bear witness to a solid faith; a faith that does not shrink from all the difficult questions, but a faith that is willing to bring those questions to God.  Mother Teresa would not turn away from God in unbelief or despair.

      But is it appropriate to speak to God like that, demanding an explanation?  It seems a bit arrogant and presumptuous for a sweet little old lady like Mother Teresa to be taking on the Almighty God of the universe.  But her challenge puts her in good company.  In the Old Testament, Job was a man well acquainted with suffering and grief, and he too challenged God for an explanation, saying things like “God, you have wronged me, why will you not respond to me?  Why have you made me your target, God?  Am I a burden to you?  Why don’t you leave me alone, even for an instant?”  But Job kept talking to God.  He wanted to die, but he did not turn away from God.  For 38 chapters he kept talking to God, and in the end, he was blessed for his faithfulness (although Job did receive a rather sharp reply from the Lord who had a few questions and comments of His own).

     Parents want their children to speak to them with love and respect, but most of all they want them to feel free to keep the lines of communication open.  Questions and challenges to a parent’s authority may receive direct answers and perhaps even discipline.  But even the angry challenges are preferable to a child’s withdrawl into an angry, sullen silence.       

     God wants to keep hearing from you, no matter what you have to say.  Keep the lines of communication open.

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Job 7:20  —  (Job said to God), “Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?  If I have sinned, what have I done to you, you who see everything we do?  Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?”

Job 38:1-4a  —  Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.  He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?  Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you know so much.”

Job 42:12a  —  The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.

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“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

–Psalm 22:1 and Mark 15:34

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1479) The Father of the Modern Missionary Movement

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The Roman Catholic Church had always been sending missionaries to the ends of the earth, ever since Jesus himself sent the first disciples out to all the nations.  But the Protestant churches, newly formed in the 16th and 17th centuries after disagreements with the Catholic church, did not right away take up this missionary task.  William Carey was one of the first to challenge the Protestant churches to obey this command of Jesus, and his story is truly one of the greatest in the history of missions.  It is told here briefly in this piece adapted from a chapter in 100 Bible Verses that Changed the World, by William and Randy Peterson, 2001.

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     William Carey seemed to be an average youngster in Paulersbury, England.  He became apprenticed to a shoemaker as a teenager and married before he was twenty.  Though he had only a basic education, he soon became a lay preacher in a small nonconformist church eight miles from his home.

     He didn’t appear to be talented.  He couldn’t manage his shoemaking business, and he didn’t seem gifted as a preacher.  When the local schoolteacher quit, Carey volunteered.  But he didn’t do well at teaching either.  “He would frequently smile at his incompetency,” his sister wrote later.

     Then Carey discovered his true talent.  He could learn languages easily.  In a short time he could master Greek, Hebrew, Latin, or whatever language he decided to learn.  Unfortunately, there were no jobs in his little village for foreign language experts.

     Carey was also fascinated by faraway places, and he loved maps.  Hanging in his room was a large map to which he attached sheets of paper containing information about each country.  He looked up at that map often when he was fixing shoes or writing a sermon.  He dreamed of going to distant lands, not to see the sights, but to proclaim the Good News of salvation in Christ Jesus.

     William Carey couldn’t understand why Christians weren’t trying to preach the gospel in all those countries that he saw on his map.  Carey would always bring this up at meetings, and was always told to be quiet.  One Baptist leader tried to put him in his place by saying, “Young man, sit down.  When God pleases to save the heathen, he can do it without your aid or mine.”  Carey spoke up at a meeting of Baptist ministers, but the chairman rebuffed him.  “You are a miserable enthusiast,” he was told; “Nothing can be done before another Pentecost.”

     Once he was ordained, Carey decided to keep pressing his concern.  In 1792 he wrote a paper entitled “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen.”  Three weeks later he preached a breakthrough sermon to his fellow ministers on Isaiah 54:2 (“Enlarge the place of thy tent”), urging them to catch a wider vision, to develop bolder programs, to dwell in the bigger world.  Then he said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”

     The ministers took no action on Carey’s appeal.  Toward the end of the business meeting, Carey grabbed the arm of the pastor next to him and said in too loud a voice, “Is nothing again going to be done?”  That got action.  Before the meeting was adjourned, a motion was passed “forming a Baptist Society for propagating the Gospel among the Heathens.”

     Soon Carey himself was set apart for missionary work in India.  A fellow pastor said, “There is a gold mine in India, but it seems almost as deep as the center of the earth.”  Carey responded, “I will venture down, but remember that you must hold the ropes.”  The church would pay his way to India, but no more support was provided.  He had to support his family by farming, along with the work of being an untrained missionary.  He was a  missionary pioneer in uncharted territory, figuring it out as he went.

     Carey arrived in India in 1793 and served there until his death in 1834.  He supported his family by raising indigo, and went to work learning the languages of the area.  It was not just one language he had to learn, but India is a land of many languages and dialects, and Carey learned dozens.  Because he mastered languages easily, he made possible the translation of the entire Bible into six languages, parts of the Bible into twenty-nine more, and the development of seven grammars and three dictionaries.  Under his direction the Serampore Press “rendered the Bible accessible to more than three hundred million people.”  It was an amazing achievement.  Carey also stimulated the formation of many mission societies and boards in subsequent decades, so it is little wonder that he is known as the father of modern missions.

     But Carey did more.  He served as professor of Oriental languages at Fort William College in Calcutta.  He became one of the outstanding amateur horticulturists of his time, bringing many improvements to the agriculture of India, and was given an honorary doctorate by the Horticultural Society of London.  Carey was also active in Indian politics where he fought for human rights.  In 1829, after protesting the practice for years, he helped end the burning alive of widows after their husbands died, and the drowning of unwanted children in India.

     William Carey, the seemingly untalented cobbler of Paulersbury, England, helped fulfill the prophecy that inspired him; enlarging the place of God’s tent, and making it big enough for India to climb inside.

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Isaiah 54:2  —  Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes.

Matthew 28:18-20  —  (The Great Commission)  Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Acts 1:8  —  (Jesus said), “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

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 Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45

1478) Marveling

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     Georgia preacher Fred Craddock describes how his ancestors used to go out walking, usually on a Sunday afternoon back when the stores were closed that day; and they called it “going marveling.”  Marveling.  They would look for unusual rocks, pretty little wild flowers, shells, four-leafed clovers, brightly colored bird feathers, maybe even a funny looking bug– marvelous things.  They would collect them, bring them back to the house, and show off the marvelous things they had found.  Or they would stop and look at a pretty cloud formation, the sunset, a doe with her fawn, or a hawk circling above.  Then later they would sit with a glass of lemonade and talk about the marvels of God’s creation.  It sounds like a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  It almost makes one wish the stores would still all stay closed on Sundays so we would once again have the time to do that.

     Anyone could probably do this, anywhere.  My mother is confined to a wheelchair and cannot go for walks in the woods.  But she has several bird feeders outside her kitchen window and she spends many hours watching the different kinds of birds and noticing their habits.  She is “marveling.”  And she will tell anyone who has the time to listen what birds come when, what they like to eat, which ones are the toughest, and which ones have to come around only when all the other birds are done eating.  

     God has given us a marvelous world.  Take some time today to do a little ‘marveling.’

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Psalm 71:17-18  —  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

Psalm 98:1a  —  O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

Job 5:9  —  (God) does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number.

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Praise and thanksgiving, Father, we offer
for all things living, created good:
harvest of sown fields, fruits of the orchard,
hay from the mown fields, blossom and wood.

–Albert F. Baily  (1970)

1477) Number Your Days

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Monk Contemplating a Skull  (1875), Thomas Couture (1815-1879)

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To be happier, start thinking more about your death!

This essay by Arthur C. Brooks first appeared in the New York Times on January 9, 2016; thus, all the references to the new year and New Year’s resolutions.  It is by no means Christian meditation, but it contains the truth of Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”  I have made a few slight alterations in the text.

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     Want a better 2016?  Try thinking more about your impending demise.

     Years ago on a visit to Thailand, I was surprised to learn that Buddhist monks often contemplate the photos of corpses in various stages of decay.  The Buddha himself recommended corpse meditation.  “This body, too, will decay” students were taught to say about their own bodies, “such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.”  Paradoxically, such meditation on death is intended as a key to better living.  It makes disciples aware of the transitory nature of their own physical lives and stimulates a realignment between momentary desires and life’s larger issues.  In other words, it makes one ask, “Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?”

     In fact, most people suffer grave misalignment.  In a 2004 article in the journal Science a team of scholars, including the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, surveyed a group of women to compare how much satisfaction they derived from their daily activities.  Among voluntary activities, we might expect that choices would roughly align with satisfaction.  Not so.  The women reported deriving more satisfaction from prayer, worship, and meditation than from watching television.  Yet the average respondent spent more than five times as long watching TV as engaging in spiritual activities.

     If anything, this study understates the misalignment problem.  The ‘American Time Use Survey’ from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in 2014, the average American adult spent four times longer watching television than “socializing and communicating,” and 20 times longer on TV than on “religious and spiritual activities.”  The survey did not ask about hours surfing the web, but we can imagine a similar disparity.

     This misalignment leads to despair and regret.  I’m reminded of a friend who was hopelessly addicted to British crossword puzzles.  A harmless pastime, right?  My friend didn’t think so — he was so racked with guilt after wasting hours that he consulted a psychotherapist about how to quit.  (The advice: Schedule a reasonable amount of time for crosswords and stop feeling guilty.)

      While few people share my friend’s interest, many share his anxiety.  Millions have resolved to waste less time in 2016 and have already failed…  Some might say that this reveals our true preferences for TV and websurfing over loved ones and God.  But I believe it is an error in decision making.  Our days tend to be an exercise in distraction.  We think about the past and future more than the present; we are mentally in one place and physically in another.  Without consciousness, we mindlessly blow the present moment on low-value activities.

     The secret is not simply a resolution to stop wasting time, however.  It is to find a systematic way to raise the scarcity of time to our consciousness.

     If contemplating a corpse is a bit too much, you can still practice some of the Buddha’s wisdom by resolving to live as if this were your last year.  Then remorselessly root out activities, small and large, that don’t pass the “last-year test.”

     There are many creative ways to practice this test.  For example, if you plan a summer vacation, consider what you would do for a week or two if this were your last opportunity.  With whom would you reconnect and spend some time?  Would you settle your soul on a silent retreat, or instead spend the time drunk in Cancún, Mexico?

     If this year were your last, would you spend the next hour mindlessly checking your social media, or would you read something that uplifts you instead?  Would you compose a snarky comment on this article, or use the time to call a friend to see how she is doing?

     Some might think that the last-year test is impractical.  As an acquaintance of mine joked, “If I had one year to live, I’d run up my credit cards.”  In truth, he probably wouldn’t.  In a new paper in the science journal PLOS One, two psychologists looked at the present value of money when people contemplated death.  One might assume that when reminded of death, people would greatly value current spending over future spending.  But that’s not how it turned out.  Considering death actually made respondents less likely to want to blow money now than other scenarios did.

     There’s still time to rethink your resolutions.  Forget losing weight and saving money.  Those are New Year’s resolutions for amateurs.  This year, improve your alignment.  Be fully alive now by meditating on your demise.

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Psalm 90:10…12  —  Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, and they quickly pass, and we fly away…  So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 39:4-5  —  Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.  You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure.

II Corinthians 4:18  —  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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Teach me to number my days aright, O Lord, and so apply my heart unto wisdom.  Amen.

1476) Speechless

Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable

Coffins are carried to the funeral of Egyptian Christians killed in Palm Sunday bombings.

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By Jayson Casper, April 20, 2017, at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com

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     Twelve seconds of silence is an awkward eternity on television.  Amr Adeeb, perhaps the most prominent talk show host in Egypt, leaned forward as he searched for a response.

     “The Coptic Christians of Egypt … are made of … steel!” he finally uttered.

     Moments earlier, Adeeb was watching a colleague in a simple home in Alexandria speak with the widow of Naseem Faheem, the guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the seaside Mediterranean city.

     On Palm Sunday, the guard had redirected a suicide bomber through the perimeter metal detector, where the terrorist detonated.  Likely the first to die in the blast, Faheem saved the lives of dozens inside the church.  (Even so, forty-five worshipers were killed in two suicide attacks.)

     “I’m not angry at the one who did this,” said his wife, children by her side.  “I’m telling him, ‘May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.  Believe me, we forgive you.  You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of.’”

     Stunned, Adeeb stammered about Copts bearing atrocities over hundreds of years, but couldn’t escape the central scandal.

     “How great is this forgiveness you have!” his voice cracked.  “If it were my father, I could never say this.  But this is their faith and religious conviction.”  Millions marveled with him across the airwaves of Egypt.

     So also did millions of Copts, recently rediscovering their ancient heritage, according to Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt, which subtitled and recirculated the satellite TV clip ( https://vimeo.com/212755977  ).  “In the history and culture of the Copts, there is much taught about martyrdom,” he told Christianity Today.  “But until Libya, it was only in the textbooks—though deeply ingrained.”


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/212755977″>Forgiveness Incarnated</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user22194617″>The Bible Society of Egypt</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

     The Islamic State in Libya kidnapped and beheaded 21 mostly Coptic Christians in February 2015.  CT previously reported the message of forgiveness issued by their families and the witness it provided.  “Since then, there has been a paradigm shift,” said Atallah.  “Our ancestors lived and believed this message, but we never had to.”  Now they must, and now, even in death, the Copts forgive.

     For example, the night of the bombings, Orthodox priest Boules George said he loves those who did this crime.  Speaking to a congregation in Cairo, his words were broadcast on the popular Coptic TV station Aghaby.  “I long to talk to you about our Christ, and tell you how wonderful he is,” said George, addressing the terrorists.  But then turning to the church, he said, “How about we make a commitment today to pray for them?  If they know that God is love and experience his love, they could not do these things—never, never, never.”  You may view his amazing “Message to Those Who Kill Us,” (with subtitles) athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iO6MwqDlIYY&feature=youtu.be

     Clearly the Coptic heritage and Jesus’ teaching have an impact on the aggrieved…  The traumatic impact and subsequent forgiveness have overcome Coptic lethargy, reviving the church.  The services of Holy Week have doubled in attendance, and the churches are flowing out into the streets…

     This Coptic defiance is not only against an enemy outside, according to Bishop Thomas of Qusia.  It is also against the Enemy within.  He said the Libyan martyrs were a turning point, as Copts watched the victims call out to Jesus in their moment of death.  In his Orthodox diocese 170 miles south of Cairo, many have since repented of sin and changed the focus of their life, making faith a priority.

     “Martyrdom is linked to the Christian life. To carry your cross and follow him,” said Thomas.  “Since we are united to Christ, in this life we are his image.  As he forgave, so must  forgive.”

     “The families of the martyrs are promoting a worldview that is 180 degrees contrary to that of the terrorists,” said  Ehab el-Kharrat, a licensed psychiatrist, former member of parliament, and an elder at Kasr el-Dobara Evangelical Church (KEDC) in Cairo.  “The great majority of Egyptians now carry deep respect for the Copts, who are viewed as patriotic people of faith.”

     Muslims had Christian ancestors, said Ramiz Atallah, and the Coptic heritage is strong…  Middle Eastern culture, however, is based on honor and shame, demanding revenge…  Within this clash of cultures, Atallah said many are now witnessing Christian forgiveness, and find it to be exactly what the country needs.

     Besides frustrating the extremists who want to provoke the Copts, Christians like the widow of Faheem are winning over Muslims as well.  “Their testimony is like a domino, with incredible ramifications in the country,” Atallah said…  The spiritual ramifications run even deeper for Bishop Thomas, who has recently received many unexpected visits of sympathy and solidarity from local Muslim sheikhs and charity workers.  For the past 15 years, his school in Qusia has been a home of civic engagement for Muslims and Christians, discussing ethics and child-rearing for the sake of their kids.  But now Muslims are asking about other issues altogether.

“When people see this attitude from Christians and the church, they ask themselves, ‘What kind of power is this?’” he said.  “But with this witness we must also declare the message of Christ, which we are fulfilling— literally. We may not see the response immediately.  But we will in the near future.”

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

I Peter 3:15-16  —  In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

I Peter 4;16  —  If you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

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Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

–Habakkuk 3:2

1475) The Healing of Memories

       Cindy and Cathy are identical twins.  Their parents were alcoholics and the girls had a dreadful childhood.  Their dad died while they were still in high school when he rolled his car after a night of drinking.  Their mother took an overdose of pills and died when the girls were away at college. 

      People say it’s a wonder the girls even survived.  Their parents were always drunk, always fighting, always yelling at the girls, and oftentimes, their dad was physically abusive to his wife and daughters.  Their mother never made meals, never cleaned the house, and the girls were washing clothes already when they were in the third grade so they would have something to wear to school.  Cindy and Cathy never received any love or affection from their parents; only abuse, rejection, and neglect.

       Cindy has been plagued by emotional problems, to no one’s surprise.  She is filled with bitterness toward not only her parents, but also toward everyone else who was in her life– relatives, people at church, and neighbors.  She blames them all for not stepping in to help.   She doesn’t believe in God anymore– “Not after allowing that,” she says.  And to this day Cindy has difficulty in all her relationships.  Her own marriage is deeply troubled, and she is beginning to repeat with her children some of things that were done to her.  She shows them little affection, yells at them constantly, and at times is physically abusive.  Cindy dwells on her past constantly and blames all her problems on her miserable childhood.

       Cathy, though raised in the same environment, has responded in a different way.  She remembers all the same things– the hunger, the fear, the beatings, and the verbal abuse; but she refuses to dwell on all that.  When Cathy does talk about her childhood she says, “Of course I wish it could have been different, but it wasn’t.  However, God has used all that pain to make me a strong person, and someone who can be understanding of the problems of others.  I need that in my work with abused children.  I can understand their pain and fear, and I’m able to help them in some ways that many people cannot.  I have the emotional strength to endure the day to day pressures and sadness of my work.  God did not create my parents to be that way.  They made their own sinful choices, but I believe God has helped me use even that tragedy to a good purpose.  I see so many sad kids and I thank God that He can use me to help them.” 

       Cathy says she will be forever grateful to her aunt and uncle who, for many years picked the girls up for Sunday School and church.  When their parents did not even go church for the girls’ Confirmation Day, this kind aunt and uncle were there, and took them out for dinner to celebrate.

       Cindy and Cathy have the same terrible past which they cannot change, but they choose to see it differently.  Cathy believed God would bring good even out of such sadness, and that hope has kept her from being destroyed by bitterness.  Cindy, however, turned away from God and has not allowed His redemptive grace to change her life.

     Cathy’s favorite Bible character has always been Joseph.  He also was mistreated when he was young, not by his parents, but by his older brothers.  They sold him into slavery and Joseph was taken away from his home and beloved father.  In Egypt he did well, but then was again mistreated.  This time, his master’s wife lied about him and he was put into prison.  Joseph, like Cathy, suffered many years because of the sins of others.   But when it was over, he did not become bitter.

     Joseph had the opportunity to get revenge on his brothers, but he chose to not do so.  He said to them, “Do not be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm the, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”  Cathy said, “When we go over to my husband’s parents and I see such a loving family, it makes me sad for what I missed.  But I have forgiven my parents.  That is now between them and God.  But I believe God used those bad times to help me help others, just like He used Joseph’s tragic life to help others.  I choose to see those painful memories in light of my trust in God.  God has healed my memories.”

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Romans 5:3-5a  —  We can rejoice even in our suffering, because suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope; and this hope will not disappoint us, because God poured out His love into our hearts.

II Corinthians 1:3-4  —  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Joel 2:25a  —  (The Lord said), “I will restore to you the years that the locusts have eaten.”

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O Christ, you calm the storm at sea;

In tempest sore, be calming me.

O Christ, you walk upon the wave, 

When sinking fast, my footing save.

O Christ, the stricken child you raise;

My spirit, lift in joy and praise.

O Christ, you feed the crowd with bread;

With words of truth, let me be fed.

O Christ, you heal the man born blind;

Make bright the darkness of my mind.

O Christ, the Resurrection Man;

With your new life, my life adorn.

–Joyce Denham, A Child’s Book of Celtic Prayers, 1998, Loyola.

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1474) May God Bless You

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Gougane Barra Church, County Cork, Ireland; built in 1700.

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IRISH BLESSINGS

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm on your face,
The rain fall softly on your fields;
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

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The Lord give us peace in our going out and our coming in, in our lying down and in our rising up, in our labor and in our leisure, in our laughter and in our tears; until we come to stand before him on that day to which there is no sunset and no dawn, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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The peace of God be with you;
The peace of Christ be with you;
The peace of the Spirit be with you;
And with your children;
From the day that we have here today,
Until the day of the end of your lives.

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Always remember to forget
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember
The things that made you glad.

Always remember to forget
The friends that proved untrue.
But never forget to remember
Those that have stuck by you.

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.

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May you always have work for your hands to do.
May your pockets hold always a coin or two.
May the sun shine bright on your windowpane.
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain.
May the hand of a friend always be near you.
And may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.

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Numbers 6:24-26  —  The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you; the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.  

John 14:27  —  Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you…  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

Romans 15:13  —  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

II Corinthians 13:14  —  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.  Amen.  

II Thessalonians 2:16,17…3:16  —  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word…  And, may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way…  

I Peter 5:10,11…14b  —  The God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever…  Peace to all of you who are in Christ.  Amen.  

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May the eternal God bless us and keep us, guard our bodies, save our souls, direct our thoughts, and bring us safe to the heavenly country, our eternal home, where Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ever reign, one God for ever and ever.  Amen.   –Sarum Breviary

As you go on your way, may the Lord Jesus Christ go with you.  May he be near you to defend you; may he go before you to show you the way; behind you to encourage you; beside you to befriend you; above you to watch over you; and within you to give you peace.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God forevermore.  Amen.   –Based on 10th century blessing

1473) Was the Resurrection a Hoax?

By Charles Colson (assembled and edited from several sources).  Colson served as Special Counsel to President Richard Nixon from 1969-1973.  In 1974 he was convicted for his involvement in the Watergate cover-up.  He was the first member of the Nixon administration to be incarcerated for Watergate-related charges, and served seven months in a federal prison.  Colson became a Christian in 1973, and after his release from prison founded the non-profit ministry Prison Fellowship.  For the next 38 years he was a respected evangelical Christian author and leader.  Colson died five years ago last Friday. 

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      I have been challenged many times on my belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  My answer is always that the disciples and five hundred others gave eyewitness accounts of seeing Jesus, risen from the tomb.  But then I’m asked, “How do you know they were telling the truth?  Maybe they were perpetrating a hoax.”

     My answer to that comes from an unlikely source:  the Watergate scandal in which I was very much involved.

     Watergate involved a conspiracy to cover up the truth.  It was perpetuated by the closest aids to the President of the United States, the most powerful men in America, men who were intensely loyal to their president.  Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell, myself and the rest believed passionately in the President.  We had at our fingertips every imaginable power and privilege.  I could phone an aide’s office and have a jet waiting at Andrews Air Force Base.  I could order Cabinet members or generals around.  I could influence the United States budget.  Yet even at the prospect of jeopardizing the President, and even with all the privileges of the most powerful office in the world, the instinct for self-preservation was so overwhelming that one by one, those involved deserted their leader to save their own skin.

     The first of us, John Dean, testified against Nixon only two weeks after informing the president about what was really going on– two weeks!  The real cover-up, the lie, could only be held together for two weeks.  Soon after, everybody else began to jump ship in order to save themselves.  The fact is that the only thing those around the President were facing was embarrassment, or perhaps a little time in prison.  Nobody’s life was at stake.  But in a situation like that, as I saw up close, the desire to save oneself has a way of overriding loyalty or any idealism.

     What does this have to do with the resurrection?  Simply this: if Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead on that first Easter Sunday, then the proclamation of that central Christian truth had to involve a massive cover-up.  The disciples would have had to cover up the fact that Jesus was really still dead, and in the face of the  fiercest opposition, lie to everyone, all the time, from then on; and say that Jesus was still alive and that the whole world should believe in him as Lord and Savior and God.

     Think about the situation that Christ’s disciples were in after He left them.  Here was a group of peasants, powerless, up against the most powerful empire in the world.  Possible prison time was the very least of their worries.  They knew that torture and execution could be in their future if they refused to stop preaching the name of Jesus Christ.  But they couldn’t stop, and every single one of the disciples insisted, to their dying breaths, that they had physically seen Jesus bodily raised from the dead.  To a man, they kept talking about Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to anyone who would listen.  None of them would deny or retract their story.  Eventually, just as the authorities had threatened, most of them were executed for it.  But still, all of them maintained to the very end that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him, touched Him, and talked with Him.

     Don’t you think that if those disciples were attempting to cover up the truth that Jesus was really still dead, that at least one of them would have cracked before being beheaded or stoned– that one of them would have made a deal with the authorities?  Only an encounter with the living God could have kept those men steadfast. Otherwise, the apostle Peter would have been just like John Dean, running to the prosecutors to save his own skin.  He had already denied Jesus three times (before the crucifixion).  But Peter did not ever deny Jesus again, and neither did any of the other disciples.  And no one can ever make me believe that eleven ordinary human beings would for forty years endure persecution, beatings, prison, and death, without ever once renouncing that Jesus Christ was risen from the dead.

     You see, men will give their lives for something they believe to be true, but they will never give their lives for something they know to be false.

     The Watergate cover-up reveals the true nature of humanity.  Even political zealots at the pinnacle of power will, in the crunch, save their own necks, even at the expense of the ones they profess to serve so loyally.  But the apostles could not deny Jesus because they had seen Him face to face, and they knew He had risen from the dead.  This gives us one of the strongest proofs we have for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

     You can take it from an expert in cover-ups– I lived through Watergate– that nothing less than a resurrected Christ could have caused those men to maintain to their dying whispers that Jesus is alive and is Lord.  Two thousand years later, nothing less than the power of the risen Christ could inspire Christians around the world to remain faithful– despite prison, torture, and death.

     Jesus is Lord:  That’s the thrilling message of Easter.  And it’s an historic fact, one convincingly established by the evidence, and one you can bet your life upon.  

     Christ has risen!  He has risen indeed!

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“I prefer to believe those writers who get their throats cut for what they write.”

–Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), French inventor, mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and adult convert to Christianity

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1 Corinthians 15:3-8  —  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

Acts 5:27-33  —  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said.  “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

     Peter and the other apostles replied:  “We must obey God rather than human beings!  The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.  We are witnesses of these things,and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.

2 Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 

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Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are his forever and ever.  Amen.

St. Hippolytus of Rome (AD 190-236)

1472) Sinners

File:Leon Bonnat - The Crucifixion.jpg

Christ on the Cross, 1874, Leon Bonnat (1833-1922)

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What I know about sinners I know chiefly about me.  We did not mean to do the deed, of course.  What we have done wrong— they seemed, or mostly seemed, small things at the time.  The word of encouragement withheld, the touch of kindness not given, the visit not made, the trust betrayed, the cutting remark so clever and so cruel, the illicit sexual desire so generously entertained, the angry answer, the surge of resentment at being slighted, the time we thought a lie would do no harm.  It is such a long and tedious list of little things.  Surely not too much should be made of it, we thought to ourselves.  But now it has come to this.  It has come to the cross.  All the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary.

–Richard John Neuhaus  (1936-2009)

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Psalm 51:3-5  —  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

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

I Peter 2:24  —  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

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I know, Father, that I must come to you just as I am.  But I also know that I dare not go away just as I came.

Often I have know failure– failure in the moral realm, failure in my actions, failure in my attitudes, and failure in my disposition.

I have confessed all these defeats to you, and you have graciously forgiven me.  Yet I know, Lord, that merely to forgive me will not suffice. For unless I am changed, I shall do these same things again.  At last I know, Lord, that only you can correct that within me that makes me do wrong.

Where I am blind, you must give me sight.  Where I fail to heed your voice, you will have to do something about my deafness.  Even when I deliberately choose to do what I know is wrong, you will have to do something about my will.

Lord, I acknowledge my total dependence upon you.  Make me over into the person you want me to be, so that I may yet find that destiny for which you gave me my life.  

In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.

–By Peter Marshall (1902-1949), Presbyterian pastor and United States Senate Chaplain; from The Prayers of Peter Marshall, 1954, edited by Catherine Marshall, p. 28.

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More by Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor for thirty years, and then a Roman Catholic priest for eighteen years; a theologian, political activist, social commentator, public intellectual,and author; and, an adviser to popes and presidents:

“In the absence of truth, power is the only game in town.”

“When orthodoxy becomes optional, it will sooner or later be prohibited.”

“Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion.”

“Disguise is central to God’s way of dealing with us human beings.  Not because God is playing games with us but because the God who is beyond our knowing makes himself known in the disguise of what we can know.  The Christian word for this is revelation, and the ultimate revelation came by incarnation of Jesus.  God is the master of disguises, in order that we might see.”

“The main thing to say about politics is that politics is not the main thing.”

“Religion as a human phenomenon is as riddled through with potential for both good and evil as any other phenomenon.”

“The propensity to say and do dumb things, and even wicked things, is simply part of human nature.  One can blame the Church or Christianity for such things only on the thoroughly unwarranted assumption that Christianity claims to have abolished human nature.  The truth is that Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, is the mother of Western civilization, with all it strengths and weaknesses, including its frequently exaggerated penchant for self-criticism.  Like others who know what it is to be a mother, she is not surprised, although sometimes disappointed, when she is blamed for everything and thanked for nothing.”

“For paradise we long.  For perfection we were made.  This longing is the source of the hunger and dissatisfaction that mark our lives.  This longing makes our loves and friendships possible, and so very unsatisfactory.  The hunger is for nothing less than perfect communion with the one in whom all the fragments of our scattered existence come together.  We must not stifle this longing.  It is a holy dissatisfaction.  Such dissatisfaction is not a sickness to be healed, but the seed of a promise to be fulfilled.  The only death to fear is the death of settling for something less.”

1471) Persistent Guilt

Image result for guilt images

By Eric Metaxas and Roberto Rivera, April 20, 2017, http://www.breakpoint.org

So, traditional morality is out, and freedom of everything is in. Then why does everybody feel so guilty?

     In 1966, Time magazine infamously posed the question “Is God Dead?” on its cover.  Recently, it ran the same cover, only with the word “Truth” instead of God.

     The literal answer to both questions is, of course, “no.”  But both questions point to an issue that has haunted the West for more than a century:  How do you justify morality in a society that increasingly lives as if there was no one to hold them accountable and define the difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood?

     Ironically, while we’ve reached the point where we’ve effectively cut the legs out from beneath the idea of sin, we are still very much in the thrall of guilt.

     That was the subject of a recent column by David Brooks in the New York Times entitled “The Strange Persistence of Guilt,” which, in turn, was inspired by an article of the same name by Wilfred McClay in the Hedgehog Review.

     And here’s what makes the persistence of guilt “strange”:  The dominant worldviews of our age, as Alasdair MacIntyre wrote in “After Virtue,” have turned beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil, into little more than expressions of feelings.  They should have freed us from feelings of guilt.

     And yet we still feel guilty.

     Instead of the easy-going relativism that should logically follow from believing that right and wrong, guilt and innocence, are a matter of feelings, we live in what Brooks calls “an age of great moral pressure.”  We may “lack the words to articulate it,” and “religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.”  Thus, as McClay writes, “Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it can never be as much as I could have given.  I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough . . . Colonialism, slavery, structural poverty, water pollution, deforestation— there’s an endless list of items for which you and I can take the rap.”

     If we are tough on ourselves, we are merciless toward others.  In Brooks’ words, “society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation,” such as “the cold-eyed fanaticism of students at Middlebury College and other campuses nationwide.”

     This “strange persistence” of guilt leaves contemporary Westerners living in the worst of all possible worlds.  Secularism and relativism have not liberated them from the need to “feel morally justified,” nor has it freed them from feelings of guilt.

     What it has done is to deprive people of the means to do anything meaningful about their sense of guilt.  As Brook says “we have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness.  Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.”  That’s because if there were true forgiveness and redemption, there would have to be an acknowledgement that there was something that needed to be forgiven and something about us that needs to be redeemed.

     At this point, I’m left thinking about the passage from Matthew, where we’re told that when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

     Brooks ends by saying that what people need is more “than the cheap grace of instant forgiveness.”  They need a way to prevent the “private guilt everybody feels” from being “transmuted into a public state of perpetual moral war.”

     And they need a personal introduction— or re-introduction— to the Good Shepherd who has already shown how far He will go to love and forgive them.

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See also:

The Strange Persistence of Guilt
David Brooks | New York Times | March 31, 2017
 
The Strange Persistence of Guilt
Wilfred M. McClay | The Hedgehog Review | Spring 2017

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Matthew 9:35-36  —  Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

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

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

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PSALM 51:1-4…10:

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge…

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.