1470) Prayers for the Evening of Life

     Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old.  Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something of every subject and on every occasion.  Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.  Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy.  With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all.  But thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.  Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.  Seal my lips on my aches and pains; they are increasing, and the love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the time goes by.  I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains, but help me to endure them with patience.  I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening certainty when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.  Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.  Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a saint– some of them are so hard to live with– but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.  Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talents in unexpected people.  And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.  Amen.

–Attributed to a 17th century Mother Superior

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     O God, our heavenly Father, whose gift is length of days, help us to make the noblest use of mind and body in our advancing years.  Apportion our work according to our strength.  As Thou hast pardoned our transgressions, sift the ingatherings of our memory that evil may grow dim and good may shine forth clearly.  We bless Thee for Thy gifts and especially for Thy presence and the love of friends in heaven and on earth.  Grant us new ties of friendship, new opportunities of service, joy in the growth and happiness of children, sympathy with those who bear the burdens of the world, clear thought and quiet faith.  Teach us to bear infirmities with cheerful patience.  Keep us from narrow pride in outgrown ways, blind eyes that will not see the good in change, and impatient judgments of the methods and experiments of others.  Let Thy peace rule our spirits through all the trial of our waning years.  Take from us all fear of death, and all despair or undue love of life; that with glad hearts at rest in Thee we may await Thy will concerning us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Author unknown; from Wings of Healing, ed. by John Doberstein

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Having passed over this day, Lord, I give thanks unto Thee.  The evening draweth nigh, make it comfortable.  As there is an evening of the day, so there is an evening of this life, the evening of old-age.  Old-age hath seized upon me; make that comfortable.

Cast me not away in the time of age;
Forsake me not when my strength fails me.  (Psalm 71:9)

Be thou with me in my old-age; even to gray hairs
wilt thou carry me.  (Isaiah 46:4)

Do thou forgive and receive and save me, O Lord.

Tarry thou with me, O Lord, for it is toward evening with
me, and the day is far spent, (Luke 24:29)

of this my toilsome life.

Let thy strength be made perfect in my weakness.
(II Corinthians 12:9)

–Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) alt.

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Look with mercy, O God our Father, on all whose increasing years bring them weakness, distress or isolation.  Provide for them homes of dignity and peace; give them understanding helpers, and the willingness to accept help; and, as their strength diminishes, increase their faith and their
assurance of your love.  This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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Satchel Paige said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”  This guy doesn’t seem to know, or care, how old he is…

1469) Wisdom from John Piper

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John Piper  (1946- )

Three brief meditations by Baptist theologian and pastor John Piper.  An extensive library of Piper’s work can be found at:  www.desiringgod.org

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Talk to God, Not Just About Him

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.  (Psalm 23:4)

     The form of this psalm is instructive.  In the first three verses David refers to God as “he”:

The Lord is my shepherd . . .
he makes me lie down . . .
he leads me . . .
he restores my soul.

     Then in verses four and five David refers to God as “you”:

I will not fear, for you are with me;
your rod and staff comfort me;
you prepare a table before me;
you anoint my head with oil.

     Then in verse six he switches back to the third person:

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord.

     The lesson I have learned from this form is that it is good not to talk very long about God without talking to God.

     Every Christian is at least an amateur theologian; that is, a person who tries to understand the character and ways of God and then put that into words.  If we aren’t little theologians, then we won’t ever say anything to each other about God and will be of very little real help to each other’s faith.

     But what I have learned from David in this 23rd Psalm and in other psalms is that I should interweave my theology with prayer.  I should frequently interrupt my talking about God by talking to God.  Not far behind the theological sentence, “God is generous,” should come the prayerful sentence, “Thank you, God.”

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Mercy for Today

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23)

     God’s mercies are new every morning because each day has only enough mercy in it for that day.

     We will despair if we think that we have to bear the burden all our future troubles today.  God wants us to know we don’t have to.  Today’s mercies are for today’s troubles.  Tomorrow’s mercies are for tomorrow’s troubles.

     Sometimes we wonder if we will have the mercy to stand in terrible testing.  Yes, we will.  Peter says, “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (I Peter 4:14).  When the trouble comes the Spirit of glory comes.  It happened for Stephen as he was being stoned.  It will happen for you.  When the Spirit and the glory are needed they will come.

     The manna in the wilderness was given one day at a time.  There was no storing up.  That is the way we must depend on God’s mercy.  You do not receive today the strength to bear tomorrow’s burdens.  You are given mercies today for today’s troubles.  Tomorrow the mercies will be new.

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Don’t Be Like the Mule

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.  (Psalm 32:9)

     Picture God’s people as a farmyard of all sorts of animals.  God cares for his animals, he shows them where they need to go, and supplies a barn for their protection.

     But there is one beast on this animal farm that gives God an awful time, namely, the mule.  He’s stupid and he’s stubborn and you can’t tell which comes first — stubbornness or stupidity.

     Now the way God likes to get his animals into the barn for their food and shelter is by teaching them and calling them by name.  “I will instruct you and teach you the way that you should go” (Psalm 32:8).

     But the mule will not respond to that sort of direction.  He is without understanding.  So God gets in his pick-up truck and goes out in the field, puts the bit and bridle in the mule’s mouth, hitches it to the truck, and drags him stiff-legged and snorting all the way into the barn.

     That is not the way God wants his animals to come to him for blessing.

     One of these days it is going to be too late for that mule.  He’s going to get clobbered with hail or struck by lightening, and when he comes running the barn door is going to be shut.

     Therefore, don’t be like the mule, but instead let everyone who is godly come to God in prayer at a time when he may be found (Psalm 32:6).

     The way not to be a mule is to humble ourselves, to come to God in prayer, to confess our sins, and to accept, as needy little farmyard chicks, the direction of God into the barn of his protection.

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O Lord Jesus:  I thank you for your love for me and pray that you help me daily to learn to love you more and more; open my heart and dwell therein; fill my mind with your truth; keep my feet from wandering from your way; make my hands gentle, willing to give and to bless; teach me to be obedient, truthful, pure, and faithful, so that I may be a blessing to others and live to your glory.  Amen.

United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917, (adapted)

1468) “Why Do You Persecute Me?”

From Extreme Devotion, 2001, (page 269), published by ‘The Voice of the Martyrs’ <www.persecution.com>

     Zahid was a Pakistani Muslim who ambushed Christians and burned their Bibles.  Once he kept one of the Bibles and started studying it to prove that Christianity was a lie.

     “I read the Bible, looking for contradictions I could use against the Christian faith,” Zahid said.  “All of a sudden, a great light appeared in my room and I heard a voice call my name.  The light illuminated the entire room.

     “‘Zahid, why do you persecute me?’ the voice asked.

     “I was scared.  I did not know what to do.  I asked, ‘Who are you?’

 “‘I am the Way and the Truth and the Life,’ was the reply.  For the next three nights, the light and the voice returned.  On the fourth night, I knelt down and accepted Jesus as my Savior.”

     Having converted to Christianity, Zahid was arrested and imprisoned as a traitor to Islam.  He was tortured in prison for two years and eventually sentenced to death.  As the noose was placed around his neck, Zahid told his executioners that Jesus was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  He wanted his last breath to be used to save his countrymen.

     Then suddenly, guards rushed in and said that there had been a stay of execution and Zahid was released.  No one knows why Zahid’s sentence was reversed, but today Zahid continues to travel Pakistan as an evangelist.

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John 14:6  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

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Acts 9:1-6  —  Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.  He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.  As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.  “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

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Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said),  “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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

–Martin Luther

1467) The Will(s) of God (b)

     (…continued)  Jesus was obedient unto death, fulfilling God’s circumstantial will, and then he rose from the dead, victorious over sin and death; and that fulfilled God’s ultimate will; and that restored what God had intended from the beginning in his intentional will.  And that is all very good; so, it is a Good Friday.  God’s will is done, but not in a simple sort of way.  In similar ways, God works with and responds to our needs, and so it is also helpful to think about our own lives in the context of these three wills of God.

     Because God created the world in the way he did, the bad things that happen to us might come from any one of several sources.  We have a free will so our own choices might get us into trouble, or we may be hurt the choices that others make; and, we may hurt others.  The devil is another one of the free creatures that God created— a fallen angel, and he is also on the loose causing us trouble and woe.  And God himself, says the Bible, might send suffering in order to teach us or discipline us or get us back on the right path. And because of sin, the world itself is out of whack and not always a safe place, so disease or storms might attack us randomly.  The world is still under God’s ultimate control.  But under the circumstances of our sinful use of the free will he has given us, God allows a variety of bad things to happen for a variety of reasons.  And it is never made clear to us in any specific situation what he is doing or allowing and why.

     The Bible does not go into precise explanations of all the reasons for and causes of trouble, and a good deal of mystery remains about it.  And, not everyone agrees on how all this works.  This is what I find to be most helpful and most Biblical.  So while God’s Word does not spell out the specifics of all this, what the Bible does do spend a lot of time describing how we should respond to suffering. 

     The Good Friday story itself teaches much about responding to suffering.  For example, we are better able to endure suffering if we can see some higher purpose in it.  Jesus had said earlier in his ministry that he was determined to go to Jerusalem, knowing that he would have to suffer and die there, but also having in mind the great work that God had for him to accomplish by his death.  For another example, an often recurring theme in the Bible is that suffering produces strength and endurance.  The disciples also suffered greatly in that last week of Jesus life– grieving the loss of Jesus, fearing for their own safety, being distressed at their own failures and loss of faith, and seeing all their hopes crushed when Jesus died.  But then, after those painful trials and after the resurrection, they were all much better men, strengthened by what they endured, and far more ready for the great work that Jesus had for them to do.

     And the greatest lesson of Good Friday is how God can take even the very worst evil and turn it into the greatest good.  There are many examples of this in the Old and New Testaments, but none is greater than the great turn-around in the death and then the resurrection of Jesus.  The despair of that first Good Friday for the disciples could not have been greater.  And then, the miraculous turn of events on Easter Sunday could not have been more wonderful.

     Good Friday speaks to one of the deepest questions of life– the question of suffering.  The questions are asked in many different ways, but are asked by everyone: Why do the good suffer?; How can a good God allow such suffering?; How can people be so wicked and cruel to each other?; and so on.  All the aspects of those questions are in the Good Friday events.  It is the innocent one that suffers.  Jesus was declared innocent several times by Pilate, and even by Judas, his betrayer.  We see on Good Friday the height of man’s cruelty to his fellowman; and Jesus endures it all, the mocking and insults and beatings and ridicule and torture and death.  And as for the question of how God can allow it, we see on Good Friday God subjecting Himself to the world’s evil at its worst.  God Himself enters into our world in the person of Jesus Christ, and he faces and endures all the same anguish, pain, rejection, grief, and even death.  Again, these are insights, and not a complete explanations and a final solution.  We don’t get that.

     But we do know now something the disciples did not know on that first Good Friday.  We know about Easter Sunday.  Baptist preacher Tony Campolo has a great line that he uses often, and it is a line worth remembering, and repeating to yourself often.  It applies to all the tragic events of Good Friday, and it applies to all the tragedy and pain in our own lives.  The line is simply this: “No matter how bad it gets, remember, it’s only Friday–and Sunday is coming.”  Easter Sunday turned everything around for the disciples, and for the whole world, for all eternity.  No matter how bad it gets, for everyone who will believe that story and believe in that Jesus, there will be an Easter Sunday coming, a day in this world, or in the next (most certainly in the next), when all will be restored, all healed, and all made right again.  This is God’s answer to the problem of suffering in our world.

     Good Friday was good because it was God’s circumstantial will that Jesus die on the cross, to restore what was from the beginning God’s intentional will, to be followed by the fulfillment of His ultimate will on Easter Sunday and in all eternity.

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Genesis 1:26a  —  Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”

Jeremiah 8:4-6  —  This is what the Lord says…  “‘Why have these people turned away?…  They cling to deceit; they refuse to return.  I have listened attentively, but they do not say what is right.  None of them repent of their wickedness, saying, ‘What have I done?’  Each pursues their own course like a horse charging into battle.”

Luke 13:34  —  (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Romans 3:22-25a  —   This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood; to be received by faith.

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Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10b

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I first learned about this way of understanding the will of God from a book I read in seminary, The Will of God, by English minister Leslie Weatherhead (1893-1976).  Weatherhead was a terrific preacher, though his theology was oftentimes not at all terrific.  But he did get it mostly right in this book, and I still find his description of the ‘three wills’ of God very helpful.

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1466) The Will(s) of God (a)

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     Sometimes when something terrible happens, people will say, “Oh well, it is God’s will and we just have to accept it.”  I always wonder what they mean by that, because it can mean many things.

     If, as I sometimes suspect, they mean God has every detail of our lives planned out and causes every single thing to happen, then I do not agree with that statement.  But if by that they mean that it is God’s will to order the world in such a way that people can make good and bad choices, then the world is indeed ordered as God wills it to be– but then that doesn’t mean he causes every little thing to happen.  God is all-powerful and did create this whole universe and everything in it.  He had the power to set it up in any way he so desired.  But by creating us in his image, he chose to give us a free will, allowing us to make bad choices that can lead to hurtful consequences. 

     Therefore, if an 18 year old gang member kills another 18 year old gang member in a drive by shooting, we must not say in any simple sort of way, “Oh well, it is God’s will and we have to accept it.”  How can it be God’s will that 18 year old boys kill each other?  God commands that we NOT kill each other.  Drive-by shootings happen when God’s will is disobeyed.  We must not call murder God’s will.

     Rather, I think it is more Biblical, and more helpful, to think in terms of not one single will of God but three wills—three distinct God ways God works in this world to carry out his will and purposes.  There is God’s intentional will, and his circumstantial will, and his ultimate will.  This sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.  Let me explain.

     First, the intentional will.  God would never intend that people kill each other.  18 year old boys should have fun together and work together, not shoot each other.  That is what God intends.  That is God’s intentional will.

     But, because God loves us and gives us freedom, we may turn away from God and misuse that freedom; as in the drive-by shooting.  Then, under those circumstances, God may have a different will.  It is not God’s will that 18 year old boys be arrested and put in jail, but that is what must happen to a killer in order to protect the community.  Therefore, under the circumstances of sin and the misuse of God’s gift of free will, it is God’s will that the boy be punished.  That would be God’s circumstantial will.

     Third, there is also God’s ultimate will.  God’s ultimate will is that both boys have faith in Jesus Christ and be forgiven and inherit eternal life in heaven, and there be friends and not shoot each other. God’s will must then be spoken of in these three ways.

     It also works like this for parents and children.  A parent’s intentional will is that their children always obey them, never disobey them, never hit their little brother, and never talk back.  It is not a parent’s intentional will to have to put children in the corner, deny privileges, forbid all computer games, or whatever else has to be done to ensure that the children do not endanger themselves or others by disobedience.  The parent’s intentional will is that everything should go smooth all the time.  This does not ever happen.  Even the best behaved children will disobey, and then under the circumstances of that disobedience, parents may have to do some things that they would not normally have done.  So their circumstantial will might be to punish their children is some way in order to teach them a lesson in obedience.  And then, the ultimate will of parents is to have the children grow up and be responsible and independent and on their own, not needing parental correction or discipline at all.  The need to punish and discipline is not the intentional will of parents, nor is it their long term goal—but it is a means to an end, made necessary under the circumstances of disobedience.  You already know how this works.

     A very bad thing happened on Good Friday.  The only perfect man who ever lived was executed in one of the most horrible ways ever devised.  And yet, we call that ‘Good.’  Why?  Well, it has to do with understanding the will of God in these three ways.  It was not God’s original intention that Jesus or anyone else ever be tortured and die in such a terrible way.  Death itself was not even in God’s intentional will, but came as a punishment for sin long ago in the first pages of the Bible.  And then, after many centuries of trying everything else to get through to his stiff-necked, disobedient creatures, God himself came to visit the earth in the person of Jesus Christ, with his message of love and grace and forgiveness.  God’s intentional will would have been that everybody listen to and obey Jesus– not kill him.  But God’s will was thwarted by many people’s reaction Jesus, just as God’s intentional will for a perfect world was thwarted by Adam and Eve.  In that story people sinned and death came into the world.  And when Jesus came, people used their free will to attack and arrest and kill Jesus, again all against God’s will— so that should make it a Bad Friday, and not a Good Friday. 

     But the death of Jesus was a good thing in a deeper sense, because it was God’s way of dealing with the sin and the death that had been set loose in all the world.  Under the circumstances of man’s sin, God provided a way to make things right, a way that included his own Son’s death on the cross.  Though God would have intended it otherwise, he knew ahead of time what would happen; so even way back in the Old Testament, God predicted how it would all unfold and that Jesus would die.  But this was all God’s circumstantial will–under the circumstances of mankind’s sin and God’s judgement, a way out had to be provided.  Jesus was sent to earth for that purpose, even if it meant dying on a cross.  So, when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will but Thine be done,” it did turn out to be God’s will that he die; that is, God’s circumstantial will

     Of course, that was not to be the end of the story.  God’s ultimate will was that beyond all the suffering and death, Jesus would rise from the dead, defeating death, and then offer that same resurrection from the dead and life in heaven to all who would believe in Him.   (continued…) 

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Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will…  Jesus went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

–Jesus, Matthew 26:39b…42b

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Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10

1465) A Prayer for Easter and Every Day

By Joshua Rogers at http://www.joshuarogers.com, April 13, 2017

     I was five years old when I walked into my mother’s bedroom and told her I wanted to give my life to Christ.  We got down on our knees beside the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart.  After that, I proudly told everyone that Jesus had saved me; but my pride slowly diminished over the years.

     As I got older, the more I questioned the efficacy of my salvation prayer because, let’s be honest, the five-year-old motives behind it didn’t exactly demonstrate any depth of understanding about what I was doing.

     On the one hand, my parents taught me a lot about the Bible, so by that age, I really had developed a childhood affection for the miracle-working Savior who held little kids in His lap and then died to save them.

     On the other hand, I wanted to be born again because I would get to take the grape juice and cracker during communion at our Baptist Church — not to mention the most important reason of all:  I would avoid going to hell.  These reasons didn’t seem like very good ones for wanting to commit my eternal life to God, so I eventually began to wonder if perhaps I hadn’t actually been saved after all.

     My insecurity about my salvation inspired me to repeatedly redo my salvation prayer, but it never seemed like it was enough.  I wanted something more official.  I needed a prayer that would unquestionably provide my eternal connection to Jesus.  But there was a vignette in the Easter story that provided the security that a prayer for salvation never could.

     As Jesus was hanging there and His life was almost over, He had a brief conversation with one of the two thieves hanging on either side of Him.  The gospel of Matthew tells us that this thief had actually been mocking Jesus earlier in his crucifixion.  But Luke tells us the rest of the story:  With the clock ticking down on his life, the thief had a sudden change of heart and made a simple request:  “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”

     The man was a low-life, a common criminal attempting a desperate deathbed conversion, and all he could utter was a request that wasn’t exactly profound:  “Remember me.”

     Jesus didn’t do an inventory of the man’s good or bad deeds before He responded.  He didn’t ignore him or wait until the man said the perfect words.  “Remember me” was more than enough.  In the final minutes of their lives, Jesus responded, “Truly I say to you, today you’ll be with Me in Paradise.”

     Maybe you won’t go to church this Easter — maybe you don’t even want to.  Maybe you’re a believer who’s insecure about your salvation.  Maybe the idea of praying about something as monumental as your eternal salvation seems intimidating to you — you wouldn’t even know where to start.  Start here:  “Remember me.”

     It doesn’t matter if your motives are self-interested or if you’ve never shown any desire to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you’ve made.  He’s there willing and waiting to take you home with Him.

     Call out to Him.  Trust that He’s willing to welcome you into His kingdom.  Ask Him to remember you today.  His certain response will have nothing to do with your worthiness and everything to do with His unfailing love.

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“Start here,” Rogers says.  The thief was near the end of his life, so he ended right after he started.  But unless you are near the end of your life (though, who knows?), this prayer must not be the sum total of the Christian life.  Jesus wants you to grow in your faith, do what is right, fight against your temptations, and keep in touch with Him through more prayer and worship and reading his Word.  

But just like for the thief on the cross who first said these words to Jesus, this simple request is a place to start, and, something to return to often.  Keep this prayer in mind.  You can say it anytime and anywhere:  when you are looking for help, looking for hope, or even when you are so blessed as to be doing just fine and want to express your gratitude by remembering the One who is the giver of all your blessings. 

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Luke 23:42-43  —  (The thief on the cross next to Jesus) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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John 8:10-11  —  Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  

“No one, sir,” she said.  

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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Psalm 106:4  —  Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them.

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Jesus, remember me.

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1464) Washing Feet (b)

Christ Washing Peter’s Feet Ford Maddox Brown, English Painter  (1821-1893)

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            (…continued)  Yet Jesus, respected rabbi and master and Lord, grabbed a towel, got down on his knees, and washed the feet of his disciples– disciples who, on occasion, could get into big arguments about which one of them was the greatest, and who would get the best seats around the throne of Christ in heaven.  Jesus could see that they needed this lesson, and John wrote it all down so we could get the same lesson.

            The disciples needed this because even though they were just students and followers now, they would soon be the leaders.  In a few years, as the followers of Jesus grew by the thousands, these disciples would be looked up to by Christians all over the world as the ones who were actually with the Lord.  That would be enough to give anyone a big head, and Jesus did not need any proud and arrogant apostles going around acting like big shots.  He wanted servants who could love other people and treat them with respect.  So Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and then said to them: “I have set for you an example that you should do for others as I have done for you.  You are not greater than me, so if I can wash your feet and if I can serve you, you ought to be more than willing to be a servant to others, even the lowliest men and women.”

            Jesus set such an example of humble service not only there, but throughout his life.  Jesus did not start his ministry until he was thirty years old.  Before that, Jesus was a carpenter, in a small town, probably making tables and chairs and wooden implements to sell to the people of Nazareth.  He would have been doing this to support himself and his widowed mother.  A hundred years after Jesus lived, a third generation Christian leader, Justin Martyr, wrote that it was still common at that time to see farmers using plows made by the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus spent most of his life engaged in manual labor. 

            This was not because he had to learn about the common life like the Prime Minister’s daughter in Thailand.  Unlike her, Jesus was born and raised in humble circumstances.  He knew all about common life.  But by spending most of his life at manual labor, Jesus was giving a lesson for everyone, everywhere, about the dignity of common labor.  It was what he himself did most of his life.

            And by washing his disciples’ feet on the night before his death, he was teaching the dignity and importance of every day acts of service to others—in even the most humble and humiliating settings.

            In John 13:17, the last verse of the account of Jesus washing the disciples feet, Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

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Mark 9:33b-35  —  (Jesus) asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

John 13:14-17  —  (Jesus said), “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

Psalm 25:9  —  He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

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KEEP ME HUMBLE  by Benjamin Anabaraonye 

Lord keep me humble
So I may not stumble
Into the folly of pride
May I in wisdom abide.

May I always remember
That all of my members
All I am and all I have
Are all what You gave.

Lord keep me humble
That I may not stumble
May I learn what I ought
As through Your Word I’m taught.

Keep me humble I pray
Each and every day
Blessed with the right attitudes
Through life’s vicissitudes.

Humbly dependent on You
With a heart sincere and true
Acknowledging Your gifts of grace
Giving back my worship and praise.

1463) Washing Feet (a)

 Thaksin Shinawatra Children

Thaksin Shinawatra and children

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           The Prime  Minister of Thailand several years ago was a man named Thaksin Shinawatra (1949-).  He was an important man in Southeast Asian politics, and is still an extremely wealthy businessman.  Shinawatra made many bad choices as a politician and was ousted in a military coup, but he had a good approach to parenting.  While he was Prime Minister, his seventeen year old daughter worked at a MacDonald’s restaurant in downtown Bangkok.  She would not have had to work there.  She would not have to ever work anywhere.  Her dad was a billionaire.  She didn’t need the money, and even if she did, her dad would certainly have had the connections to get her an easier, higher paying, more high class job.  But her dad wanted her to work at MacDonald’s for a low wage, with people of a far lower social standing.  He said:  “I want her to have that kind of experience and to know about life, because she is the youngest child and when she was born, her parents were already wealthy.”

            This girl may not have liked her father’s job selection for her, but any adult can see the wisdom in that father’s decision.  He was teaching his daughter many things.  He was teaching her the value of a dollar (or whatever they use for money in Thailand); he was teaching her the worth and dignity of all labor; and, by forcing her to work with people who she might think of as ‘beneath’ her, he was teaching her about the equality of all people.  She probably learned that people on both ends of the economic spectrum can be wise or foolish, mean or nice. And he was teaching her about the value of serving other people, even if it is just serving them a hamburger and fries.  That was a wise father and a fortunate daughter.

            Today is Maundy Thursday.  In the evening of that first Maundy Thursday, Jesus had his Last Supper with his disciples.  It was at that meal that Jesus predicted Judas’s betrayal, Peter’s denial, and that all the disciples would desert him—predictions which all came true within just a few hours.  It was also at that meal that Jesus took some bread and wine from the table and began a ritual that his followers to continue to this day.

            There was one more important thing Jesus did that night.  He washed his disciple’s feet.  This part always takes some explaining.  Nowadays, people wear shoes when they go outside; and if your shoes are muddy, you take them off before you go trouncing around in someone else’s living room.  Many people like the shoes to go off at the door even if they aren’t full of mud. 

            But in Jesus’ day, people walked around barefoot, or at best, they wore sandals.  Most roads and paths were dirt, so by the end of the day everyone had dirty feet.  They couldn’t take their feet off, so someone had to wash them.  None of this had to be explained to John’s first readers, but needs and customs are different now. 

            These verses from John 13 tell us what Jesus did at the Last Supper about dirty feet:

            The evening meal was in progress, and Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

            There were unwritten rules about who washed whose feet.  Most of the time you just washed your own feet; but if you had a little money or status, you might get someone to wash them for you.  A parent might have a child do the foot washing, or a wealthy man might have a servant do that for him, or a teacher might have his students take turns washing his feet.  But you would not ever wash the feet of someone who was beneath you in status.  This was not a pleasant task, and no one would do it for another unless they had to or it was expected of them.  Yet, on the night before he was to die, Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God, who the next day was to die for the sins of all the world, washed his disciples’ feet.

            The disciple could hardly believe it.  Peter, at first was not going to even allow it.  In verse eight Peter said to Jesus, “No Lord, you shall never wash my feet.”  It was unthinkable.  But Jesus insisted and Peter finally obeyed and allowed it.

            This is far more remarkable than the Prime Minister’s daughter working at MacDonald’s.  This is even more incredible than if the Prime Minister himself would get a job at MacDonald’s.  Think of what it would be like in this country.  American ex-presidents have been known to get a quarter million dollars to make a single public appearance and give a 45 minute speech.  Do you think you will ever see any of them mopping the floor at MacDonald’s; or even driving their own car, or opening the door for someone else?  One day Winston Churchill’s servant forgot to put toothpaste on the great man’s toothbrush, and Prime Minister Churchill, who inspired a nation and helped lead the free world to victory in World War II, did not know what to do.  (continued…)

1462) Getting Old

Image result for old man walking images

From “Don’t Waste Your Aging” by Andree Seu Peterson, posted April 5, 2017 at: http://www.wng.org (adapted)

     My father-in-law has fallen again.  I heard the loud thud from the kitchen and there he was like a beached whale, motionless on his tummy where he landed.

     My cat now spends half her day in bed and has become clingy, as if she’s developed a reflective streak and realizes we have been through a lot together over fifteen years.  I open the front door and she looks outside for a long minute and then turns back in.

     My father asked me to slow down on our walk a few months ago, only a half mile into the course.  I looked at him like I didn’t even know him.  He had never said those words to me before and was embarrassed.

   These are the days (see Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 below) when “the clouds return after the rain” (good days are a only short reprieve before bad days come again).  “The keepers of the house tremble” (hands shake, words are frail).  “The strong men are bent” (only two of us in this house walk even close to perpendicular).  “The grinders cease because they are few” (one favors the side of my mouth with more teeth).  “Those who look through the windows are dimmed” (I keep taking my glasses on and off and can’t decide which way is better).  “The sound of the grinding is low” (people seem to mumble, or is it me?).  “One rises up at the sound of a bird” (light sleep).  “Terrors are in the way” (it used to be so annoying when your grandmother always said to be careful of this and careful of that).  “The almond tree blossoms” (a crown of white hair).  “And desire fails” (some temptations are quenched not through virtue but lack of energy).  “Before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern …” (everything eventually breaks, gives out, crumbles).

     A chiropractor who was working on my husband’s back told us that the body has a memory.  It has registered all those high school injuries you thought you put behind you forty years ago, and here they are again, saying, “Yoo-hoo!  Remember me?”

     If you study the Bible, you will find that God is always taking curses and turning them into blessings for those who believe in Him to do that very thing.  Satan sows thorns and thistles in Paradise, and God uses them to mold character.

     Of the four of us under this roof (not including the cat), I’m in the best shape.  It could go either way for me at this point, spiritually.  I could be proud and forget what I have seen and waste my aging.  Or I could recognize that Ecclesiastes 12 is meant to make me take Ecclesiastes 11 seriously and to “cast my bread on the waters,” doing all the good I can in the time I have left, without being so afraid of risk.  “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”

     The day is coming when I won’t have strength to cast or reap.  I have a friend who is a chaplain for a hospice agency.  She is sometimes the very last person someone sees.  Some people only want to hold her hand and just be quiet.  I wonder what they’re thinking.  I’ll bet that no one in that hour is regretting having lived too much for God.

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ECCLESIASTES 12:1-7:

 Remember your Creator
    in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
    and the years approach when you will say,
    “I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
    and the moon and the stars grow dark,
    and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
    and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
    and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
    and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
    but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
    and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
    and the grasshopper drags itself along
    and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
    and mourners go about the streets.

 Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
    and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
    and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
    and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

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Ecclesiastes 11:1  —  Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days (NIV).  Or as in ERV, “Do good wherever you go.  After a while, the good you do will come back to you.”

Ecclesiastes 11:4 —  Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.

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Having passed over this day, Lord, I give thanks unto Thee.  The evening draweth nigh, make it comfortable.  As there is an evening of the day, so there is an evening of this life, the evening of old-age.  Old-age hath seized upon me; make that comfortable.  Do thou forgive and receive and save me, O Lord.

–Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) alt.

1461) The ‘Real’ Jesus? (b)

Image result for palm sunday images african

Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, by Zambian artist Emmanuel Nsama (1941-2011)

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     (…continued)   And yet, after three years of being with Jesus constantly, these disciples were still willing to say that Jesus was perfect, sinless, and not just a human, but the Son of God.  There are many verses in the New Testament that say this.  Jesus had said, “I and the Father are one,” and he called himself the Son of God.  These were outrageous claims, and yet the disciples continued to follow him.  They knew Jesus better than anyone, but they did not dispute the claims Jesus made about himself.  The disciples, like Lincoln’s old friend William Herndon, would have known and could have written about the good and the bad in Jesus.  But they had nothing bad to say.

     Of the twelve disciples, Peter and John were among the closest.  In later years, John would write, “In Jesus there was no sin.”  Peter would write, “Christ did not sin nor was there ever a false or wicked word on his lips, and so he has left for us a perfect example to follow.”  And the writer of Hebrews wrote, “Jesus was in all ways tempted as we are, yet was without sin.”  In II Corinthians Paul also said that Jesus was without sin, and in Ephesians Paul said Jesus was indeed, perfect.  This is the teaching of the New Testament, and the New Testament was written by, or within the lifetime of, those who knew Jesus. 

     But aren’t we forgetting someone?  Perhaps not all twelve of the disciples were convinced of the goodness of Jesus.  After all, did not one of them, Judas, betray Jesus to his enemies?  Well, despite twenty centuries of speculation, we do not really know what motivated Judas to do that.  But what we do know is that within just a few hours, Judas was filled with regret and remorse over his betrayal of Jesus.  He went back to the chief priests to return the money and ask them to release Jesus, saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent  blood.”  Innocent.  Even Judas, the betrayer, acknowledged the innocence of Jesus.  In another truly remarkable part of the story, Pilate, who was maneuvered into condemning Jesus to death, said after questioning him, “I find no fault in him at all.”  Even the centurion who supervised the crucifixion of Jesus said, after seeing Jesus die, “Truly, this was an innocent man.”  These are powerful testimonies.

     Is there anyone you know, or anyone else in all of history, to whom such words and phrases could be applied: sinless, perfect, without fault, never a false or wicked word on his lips, and a perfect example?  These words were not applied to Jesus centuries later after his legend had grown.  These descriptions were made by the men who lived with Jesus and saw him every day.  Their descriptions of Jesus were written down just a few years after they had been together. We have in the Gospels an amazing testimony to this man who was indeed much more than a man.  Jesus, as the Creed says, is both man and God, worthy of our worship as our Lord and Savior.  And although everyone, even his betrayer and his judge, proclaimed him innocent, he went to the cross, executed as a common criminal in order to win for all people the forgiveness of their sins.  Even after two thousand years, the words and testimonies of Jesus friends and enemies bear witness to the fact that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God.

     The Palm Sunday crowd had it right.  The entrance of Jesus into the Holy City that day was worth celebrating.  And what Jesus was to do there in that Holy Week after Palm Sunday is worth remembering and believing in and hoping for and depending on—for everything and forever.

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I John 3:5  —  But you know that (Jesus) appeared so that he might take away our sins.  And in him is no sin.

I Peter 2:21-22  —   To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

Hebrews 4:15  —  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

Matthew 27:4a  —  “I have sinned,” Judas said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

John 18:38b  —  (Pilate) went out again unto the Jews, and said unto them, “I find no fault at all in him.”

Luke 23:47  —  Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”

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Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; grant us Your peace, grant us Your peace.

–Agnus Dei (Lutheran), based on John 1:29 and ancient liturgies