1491) Keep Trying Until You Get Home

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     No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep picking ourselves up each time.  We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home.  But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard.  The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up.  It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.

The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II

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Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.

–Nelson Mandela

Fall seven times, stand up eight.

–Japanese proverb

Failure is not falling down, it is not getting back up again.

–Mary Pickford

The greatest accomplishment is not in never failing, but in rising again after you fall.

–Vince Lombardi

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1 John 3:20  —  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Romans 7:21, 24-25  —  So I find this law at work:  Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.  For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Acts 3:19  —  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Philippians 3:13-14  —  One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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Almighty God, have mercy upon us, forgive us all our sins, and deliver us from all evil; confirm and strengthen us in all goodness, and bring us to life everlasting.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, Scotland

1490) What Do People Want?

What’s the number one thing we can do to fill our churches?  It’s probably not what you think.

By John Stonestreet, at www.breakpoint.org, May 9, 2017

      According to a new Gallup survey, the quality of the worship band isn’t the main reason people go to church.  Neither is it thriving kids’ programs.  Or even a dynamic personality behind the pulpit.  No; instead, respondents said that “Sermons that teach about Scripture” are the reason they show up on Sunday mornings.

     As Christianity Today reports, “Researchers found that 82 percent of Protestants and 76 percent of all regular worshipers consider sermons’ biblical lessons as a major factor that draws them to services.”  They also want application: “80 percent of Protestants and 75 percent of worshipers valued sermons that connect faith to everyday life.”

     Now it shouldn’t really surprise us that people are hungry for truth in this post-truth, post-fact culture, especially when it’s harder than ever to discern fact from fiction, reality from conspiracy theory.

     Scripture tells us that God has “set eternity” in our hearts.  Our first parents may have been expelled from the Garden of Eden, but we, their descendants, still cannot quite shake the memory of it.  Augustine knew something about this insatiable search for truth and beauty, writing in prayer to God, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”  As G.K. Chesterton once said, people are “homesick in their homes.”  Chesterton knew that every time we lay our heads on our pillows at the end of the day, we lay them down in a foreign land.

     Whatever our neighbors may say, whatever veneer they present, we know that many of them are hungry for what we’ve been given in Scripture— the Truth that is Christ Himself.  Pastor and editor Matt Woodley says in Preaching Today, “In a distracted, outraged, shallow culture, people begin to hunger for something rare:  the focused, balanced, and deep.”

     So it’s time to, among other things, abandon the therapeutic-driven, self-centered sermons that characterize too much preaching these days.  As researcher and pastor Ed Stetzer recently pointed out, Oklahoma-based Life Church is one of many congregations that has started beefing up its teaching in response to people we sometimes call ‘unchurched.’   “In other words,” Ed says, “those for whom sermons were being dumbed down aren’t dumb.  They are interested in the truth or else they’d be out golfing.”

     The goal of church cannot be to out-entertain the world.  First, we can’t.  In a world of instant gratification, 24/7 communication access, and virtually limitless glowing rectangles clamoring for our attention, the church just can’t win the entertainment battle.  Second, it shouldn’t try.  That’s not what church is about, nor is it what people need.  Gathering for worship, though it can be exhilarating— or, on some days, boring— isn’t about entertainment, because it’s not about us.  It’s about meeting with God as a community of His people, giving Him His due, and being instructed, admonished, equipped, and encouraged by Him to join in His work.

     As Pastor Jared Wilson recently tweeted, “Someone will always have better coffee, music, facilities, and speaking.  Showcase Christ and his gospel.  No one can improve on that.”

     We should encourage our pastoral leaders to prepare deep, biblical sermons and education offerings that rest firmly on the authority of Scripture.  This sort of thing requires hours of diligent study of the Word of God and prevailing, passionate prayer.  There are no shortcuts if we are to end the tragedy of a church too often a mile wide and an inch deep.

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II Timothy 4:1-5  —  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage— with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Romans 10:14…17  —  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?…  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Mark 16:15  —  And (Jesus) said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to all creation.”

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Almighty and Gracious God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, give us true teachers and ministers of Thy Word, and put Thy saving Gospel on their hearts and on their lips, that they may truly fulfill Thy command, and preach nothing contrary to Thy Holy Word; so that we, being warned, instructed, nurtured, comforted, and strengthened by Thy heavenly Word, may believe and do those things which are well-pleasing to Thee, and profitable to us; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958, page 225.

1489) God’s Agenda for You (part three of three)

     (…continued)  What we are told in the Bible is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  That being the case, there are a few things we should keep in mind.

     First of all, knowing what God’s three-part agenda is for us, we need not be surprised by the troubles.  We should expect them.  Trouble in our life is not a sign that God does not care or does not see.  On the contrary, it means that God sees much more than we do and cares in ways we cannot begin to imagine.

     Second, a good meeting goes by the agenda and stays on schedule.  When we apply this illustration to our faith, we need to keep in mind that with God’s scheduling there is an eternity to work things out for our good.  We might be stuck in step two (the problem stage) for our entire life.  Some people seem to never get out of trouble.  But even if so, God’s program is not limited to our eighty years on planet earth.  God’s schedule stretches into all eternity.  If eternity is too much for you to imagine, just think about a 10,000 year program.  Imagine a mere eighty years of problems here, and after that on to the promised provision for 9,920 years.  We need to remember this broader perspective on God’s longer agenda.

     We are on a long range program with God.  In the Bible, God thinks nothing of taking thirty years to prepare David or forty years to train Moses– and these are the giants of the faith in God’s story.  Who are we in comparison?  Why should we think ourselves able to get by without long years of trouble and testing?  In an incredible little verse in the book of Hebrews (5:8) we are told that even Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.”  Suffering is a hard school, but it seems to be a necessary one.

     We are in God’s care, He is wiser than we are, and this is how He has chosen to deal with us.  We might, in the midst of our pain, object to how God has arranged life in this world.  But if we were in the same position as God, I suspect we might do the same thing.  There are, in fact, people who are in our care at different times in our lives, and we must hope that we will be wise in how we take care of them.  I am thinking primarily of parents and children, so I will close with a story (similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son) to illustrate how this works in a way we might better understand.

     Janos was a Hungarian immigrant who came to this country as refugee after World War II.  He arrived without a penny in his pocket.  But Janos worked hard, started a small business which grew rapidly, and by age 50 he was a millionaire.  Then, he finally had time to think about getting married, and found a wife much younger than himself.  Within a year a son was born to them, and that made Janos happy and hopeful for the future.  He would make sure his son had a better life than he did, and so he raised him with every privilege.

     Then tragedy came into the life of Janos.  First, his young wife was killed in a car accident.  Later that same year Janos learned he had cancer and only few months to live.  His son had just turned eighteen years old and was about to inherit a very large amount of money.

     Janos did not know what to do.  His son was a good boy, but still just a kid.  He knew nothing of life.  Janos had given him a good and comfortable life, but Janos could see that his son was not yet mature enough to handle that kind of wealth.

     In his last days, therefore, Janos had a talk with his son.  He told him that all his businesses would be sold and all the money put into a trust.  Upon Janos’s death, the son would receive a small provision to help him get started in life– if he used it wisely.  But then the boy would get not one more penny until he was 25 years old.  Janos said, “I had hoped that your mother and I would have been here to teach and guide you, but we cannot.  But you do need to be taught; so now, life itself must be your teacher.  That would not happen if you get everything given to you now.  I have tried to teach you as much as I was able, but now you will have to work and figure out for yourself how to live, just as I did.  I hope that by age 25 you will be wiser and ready to receive the money.  Do your best, my son; be wise and work hard.”

     This was a huge disappointment for the son, but the father soon died and there was nothing that could be done about it.  The son had enough money to sit around and do nothing for a while, and that is what he did.  He was not wise and not careful with the money as his father advised.  Soon it was all gone, and he was on his own.  He was as poor and desperate as his father was 50 years earlier, and he had to get used to an entirely different lifestyle.  He was forced to work like he never did before; not at easy office jobs like in his father’s business, but in hard physical jobs that paid minimum wage.  And he was forced to live in a small apartment in a dangerous part of the city.

     Many times the boy was angry with his father.  Life could have been so much easier.  None of these problems were necessary, he thought.  There was enough money to do everything he wanted to do and not go through any of this suffering.  His father had the resources to have made it all so much better.  The boy often wondered why his father made him suffer.

     I am going to stop there.  I made this story up and I could have ended it any way I wanted.  You can imagine in your own mind how it might end, as well as you can imagine what the boy would have done if he had inherited all the money at age eighteen.  He wasted the little bit he did have, he probably would have wasted it all if he had it, and completely ruined his life in the process.  But now, he will at least have an opportunity to learn about life from the problems he will face in the next seven years on his own.  Life itself might well be the effective teacher his father had hoped, and make the boy more ready to receive the wealth at age 25.  Even an 18 year old who has been a good boy has much more to learn, and facing problems would be one of the most effective teachers.  

     Still, the boy wondered why his father made him suffer.  We wonder why God allows us to suffer.  The father had a larger perspective and more wisdom than the son.  God has a larger perspective and more wisdom than we do.

     Keep in mind, then God’s agenda for your life—great and wonderful promises, then problems galore, and then the provision—the fulfillment of all that is promised.  Take hope in the promises, expect and endure and learn from the problems, and look forward to the provision.

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1488) God’s Agenda for You (part two of three)

     (…continued)  Many stories in the Bible teach us that problems are a necessary part of the agenda, and, in the long run, the problems do everyone a lot of good.  Let’s begin with the one fellow that was allowed to escape part #2 (at first, anyway), the Prodigal Son.  He had the promise of one day inheriting great wealth from his father, but first there would be a problem.  He had to go to work for his father on the family farm.  Some time in the future, in accordance with how things usually work, when his father died, this son would inherit his share of this estate.  This would be the provision.   But this son (like all of us who wish we had no problems) wanted to eliminate the problem and get right to the provision.  “Father,” he asked, “Could I get my share of the inheritance now?” He wanted the inheritance before the father’s death, without the work and without any problems in the meantime.  “Yes,” was the father’s surprising reply, and he gave this son half of his wealth.  And what happened?  This son hadn’t lived enough, hadn’t struggled enough, hadn’t faced enough problems to know anything yet, and he wasted everything he had on foolish living.  In no time at all, the provision was gone, and then came the problem.  The problem part of the agenda cannot be avoided.  The son’s life was ruined, he was starving, and he had only one option.  His only hope was to return to the father where he was forgiven; and, although the story does not say it, I am sure, he was put to work.  Getting the provision before the problems led to trouble for this son.

     Most other Bible stories follow the proper agenda.  God had a great promise in mind for Moses– he would be the agent of deliverance for the Hebrews.  Moses took things into his own hands and began by killing two cruel Egyptians in anger.  God then apparantly decided Moses was not ready, but needed some problems first.  So God then sent Moses far from the luxuries of the palace, out into the desert for forty years of exile in hardscrabble wilderness living.  By the problems endured in that suffering, Moses matured and was made ready for leadership.  Then God sent him back to deliver the people from their bondage. 

     Joseph was chosen by God as a teenager to be a leader, and God revealed his plans to Joseph in dreams.  But Joseph wasn’t ready.  The dreams gave him a big head, he felt superior to his older brothers, and he was a constant annoyance to them.  That was no way for a leader to act, so God sent him some big problems.  Joseph was sold into slavery, spent several years in servitude, and then several years in prison.  But God had not forgotten him.  God was using the problems to train him.  When the time was right, God raised Joseph up to become a great leader in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.  In that position, with what he had learned, he was able to save that entire part of the world from famine.  But he was first made ready for that great task by the problems God made him endure.

     The great King David first received the promise to be king as a teenager, but it was years before the provision; years before he finally wore the crown.  And the intervening years were filled with suffering and danger.  But it was those problems that deepened David’s soul, preparing him to be a great king.

     Saul, the king before David, was allowed to skip step two.  Saul received the promise and the provision all at once, going from being a farmer to being a king on the same day.  Saul failed miserably. It looks like we do need problems on the agenda.  It seems this three part agenda God has for us is a necessary one.  It seems to be best when we go from promise to problems and then to provision.

     If we want to think deeper about this we can ask if God sends or merely allows the problems. There is some disagreement among theologians on this, but it seem clear to me from the Bible that he does both.  But seldom in the Bible and never in our lives today, does God tell people what he is doing—when he is causing the problems, when he is merely allowing them to come as a result of bad choices or bad luck, and what God hopes to accomplish when He does have a hand in all this.  He did not tell Joseph or David in their long periods of trouble what he was doing or how he was preparing them.  In fact, we know more of the story of God’s hand in their story now than they did then.  And I have no idea what direct hand God is playing by bringing affliction into my life for my own good, or what troubles I must face because of my own sinful or stupid decisions. 

     What we are told in the Bible is that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  That being the case, there are a few things we can keep in mind.  (continued…)

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Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Hebrews 5:8b  —  He learned obedience from what he suffered.

Romans 5:3b-4  —  We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

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Thy will be done.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10b

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1487) God’s Agenda for You (part one of three)

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     When I go to a meeting or a class or a conference, I like to know what to expect.  I like to see a program or an agenda or a schedule, so I can know when the sessions will begin, when they will end, who the speakers will be, when we will have breaks, how long those breaks will be, and so on.  I am very used to going to that sort of thing, so I am able to sit still and listen for long periods of time when I need to; that is, if I know what to expect.  Even if I know the session is going to be three hours long and boring, I can put up with it—if I know that is what’s coming.  I then go in fully expecting to have to sit and twiddle my thumbs for that long.  I can do that.  But I am far less able to sit that long, and I can become very restless, when I don’t know what is coming, or, if what I have to sit through is not what I was expecting.

     A while back, for example I went to such a meeting.  The meeting started at 7:45 and from the agenda, it looked like it would be a short meeting.  I was expecting it to be over in about 45 minutes, or, at about 8:30.  But then we got hung up on one silly little item and did not get out of there until after 10:00.  That became very frustrating.  Had I known it was going to take that long, it would not have been a problem.  But going there expecting a short meeting, and then sitting there three times as long as I planned, was irritating.

     I am sure you know what I mean.  When you go to church, you expect the service to last about an hour.  That is what you are used to and you are ready for that and if the service is finished on time, everyone is happy.  But once in a while the service will go on a little longer, and sometimes, even much longer.  And you notice that, don’t you?  And you begin to look at your watch and you might start getting restless.  That isn’t what you were expecting.

     Another example.  Many of you have had to sit in a waiting room while a loved one goes through a complicated and life-threatening surgery.  The doctor will often tell the family ahead of time how long their loved one will be in the operating room.  The doctor might say it will last six hours, and that is a very long time to wait; but knowing ahead of time what to expect helps you be prepared to endure it.  However, if the doctor says the surgery will take only an hour or less, but then complications turn it into a six hour surgery, that kind of unexpected and uncertain wait can be almost unbearable.  We like to know what to expect, and then we can be ready for it.

     Did you know that God has an agenda for your life?  Do you know what it is?  Perhaps not.  But in life, just as in meetings or in hospital waiting rooms, it helps to know what to expect.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know ahead of time God’s agenda for your life?  Wouldn’t it be nice to know what to expect so you can be able to prepare for it? 

     Well, God does have such an agenda for your life.  I don’t know the details of the agenda or how long each item on the program will last, but I can tell you the program.  It is the same program for everyone.

     This is a simple three step program, and it will be easy to remember because every one of the three steps in the Program, begins with a ‘P:’

–Program Item #1 is PROMISE; God has given you some great and wonderful promises.

–Next, skip ahead to Program item #3 which is PROVISION; God will provide the fulfillment of all his promises.

–But before that there is Program item #2, and this middle item on the program is the one that gives us the most trouble.  Between the PROMISE and the PROVISION, there will always and for everyone be Item #2 on the Program, PROBLEMS.

     This is God’s three part agenda for your life—Promises, Problems, and Provisions.  Keeping that agenda in mind will help you immensely in your life.  Then you will know what to expect, and you will not be surprised or overwhelmed.

     At large and important meetings, such as church conventions, the very first item on the agenda is to adopt the agenda.  That is usually just a formality, but sometimes there are objections to the program presented, and delegates can make a motion to revise the agenda before it is adopted.

     If in our lives we had such an opportunity to revise God’s agenda for us, we all would probably make a motion to eliminate item #2 on the agenda, the Problems.  We like the part about the Promises, and we most certainly look forward to the Provision which brings the fulfillment of those promises, but we have a problem with the Problems.

     Adding to the frustration is that it seems as though that part of the agenda never ends, but goes on and on as we go through life dealing with one darn thing after another.  And if God is God, we wonder, why does it have to be that way?  Why can’t God, in all his almighty power, just make all the problems go away?  This question is asked by every one of us as we face our own problems:  Why couldn’t God have healed him of cancer; God has done so for others. Why can’t I just ever get caught up financially; it seems so easy for others.  Why did that patch of ice have to be right there; I was doing all right in my own home, and now here I sit in a care center with a broken hip and I’m not sure I’ll ever get out.  And so on.  Everyone on earth has their problems and their questions for God.

     And yet, the Bible makes it clear that God himself has put problems on the agenda for our lives; at least ever since sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden.  We know it is a fact of life, and we know it is in the Bible, but in our pain we still want to know WHY?  (continued…)

1486) Images of the Persecuted Church

Many Mid-East nations have (or, once had) significant Christian minorities.  Many of the refugees you see on the news are Christians fleeing not only the wars, but genocidal persecution specifically targeting them as Christians.  Recent victories by the  Iraqi army over ISIS forces have allowed some of these Christians to return home.  The fifteen photos below illustrate the destruction done to their places of worship.  Some of them also show these Christian brothers and sisters worshiping again in their ruined churches.  Think about them tomorrow morning as you worship in peace and safety, and remember them in your prayers.  

If you have trouble viewing the images on your email, go to my website at:

http://www.emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2017/05/06/1486

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By Alan Taylor;  www.theatlantic.com; April 27, 2017.

In August of 2014, ISIS militants swept through towns near Mosul, Iraq, taking control and forcing thousands to flee.  Among the towns was Qaraqosh, which was Iraq’s largest Christian city with a population of 50,000.  For more than two years, occupying ISIS jihadists tried to erase any evidence of Christianity from Qaraqosh— burning churches, destroying icons and statues, toppling bell towers, and more.  Qaraqosh was retaken by Iraqi forces in October of 2016, but the city remains almost completely deserted.  Little by little, some residents who were forced to flee have been returning to recover what belongings remain, to assess the damage to their property, and to attend church services and holidays.  Only a handful of families have moved back to the city so far, still fearing for their security, as Iraqi forces continue to battle ISIS in nearby Mosul.

A Syriac Christian militiaman stands guard on top of the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) during an Easter procession in the nearly-deserted predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh (also known as Hamdaniya), some 30 kilometers from Mosul, on April 16, 2017.

A fighter from the NPU (Nineveh Plain Protection Units) walks through a destroyed church on November 8, 2016 in Qaraqosh, Iraq.  The NPU is a military organization made up of Assyrian Christians and was formed in late 2014 to defend against ISIS.

A woman looks to salvage items from the rubble at the back of a church in Qaraqosh on December 22, 2016.

A smashed statue of Jesus Christ sits on the altar of a church burned and destroyed by ISIS during their occupation of the predominantly Christian town of Qaraqosh on December 27, 2016.

The remains of a destroyed church stand in the town of Qaraqosh on April 13, 2017.

A soldier from the U.S Army stands guard next to a defaced christian statue during Christmas Day mass at Mar Hanna church in Qaraqosh on December 25, 2016.

The broken cross of a Christian Church in the town of Qaraqosh on November 26, 2016, after Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS jihadists.

A member of the NPU rings the bell of a destroyed church in Qaraqosh on March 3, 2017.

Iraqi priests hold the first mass in the damaged Grand Immaculate Church since it was recaptured on November 2, 2016.

Iraqi Christians pray at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, damaged by ISIS fighters during their occupation of Qaraqosh, on November 12, 2016.

A man sweeps dust off pews in preparation for the Christmas Day mass at the Mar Hanna Church on December 22, 2016.

Iraqi Christian residents of Qaraqosh attend the first Palm Sunday service at the heavily damaged Church of the Immaculate Conception on April 9, 2017, since Iraqi forces recaptured it.

An Iraqi Syriac Christian girl smiles during an Easter procession at the Saint John’s church (Mar Yohanna) in the town of Qaraqosh on April 16, 2017.

Christians take communion during Easter mass in Qaraqosh, Iraq, on April 16 2017.

Iraqi Christian residents from Qaraqosh take part in a parade on April 9, 2017, as Christians celebrate the first Palm Sunday event in the town since Iraqi forces recaptured it from ISIS jihadists.

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I Thessalonians 5:25  —  Brothers and sisters, pray for us.

Matthew 5:10-12  —  (Jesus said), “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.”

I Corinthians 4:12b-13a  —  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted,we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.

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Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted.  Strengthen, comfort, and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment, and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray also for those who persecute your people.  May their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect members of the families and church communities of those who are persecuted, and bless the work and ministry of the organizations that support them.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1485) The Way Things Were Supposed to Be, I Suppose

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By Will Campbell, Baptist minister, author, unconventional civil rights activist, and ‘pastor to bigots,’  (1924-2013); in Brother to a Dragonfly, 1978, pages 38-40.

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     Joe was the worker.  I was the sickly one.  Sister was just that– Sister.  Paul was the baby.  We lived that way and if those categories and designations and roles seemed unfair to any of us we never discussed it.  That’s who each one was.  One did not ponder identity.  Everyone knew and understood, without being told.  Without asking questions.  This is who I am.  That is who you are.  The question, “Who am l?” need not, and did not, come up.  That’s the way we lived.

     I think Joe was just under four years old when we moved from the “Old Place.”  The “Old Place” was a few hundred yards up the road from where we were all raised to leaving-home age.  Daddy and Mamma had moved there about a year after they were married, he at nineteen, she at seventeen.  They lived the first year in the house with Grandpa and Grandma.  Then Grandpa gave him forty acres of land, and then Daddy bought about that much more.  It was our place from then on.  That’s where we lived and worked and did everything that families do except go to church and school and occasionally visit kinfolks.

     We had to move from the “Old Place” because it didn’t have a well.  They tried, more than once, but there didn’t seem to be any water beneath the ground.  They carried water, two buckets at a time, from Grandpa’s house.  I remember the stories— Sister and Joe crying for a drink of water, Mamma finding Sister drinking out of a small washpan where all three of us had just been bathed, and catching rain water dripping from the eaves of the house.

     It would be some years before it occurred to our father that we were poor.  He could go to his backyard and draw up a bucket of water from a sixty-five-foot-deep well whenever he pleased or the need arose.  That was a luxury.  One with luxuries is not poor.

     It was only when the depression came that we discovered we were, in fact, poor people.  We were not destitute, not with cured hams and sides of bacon hanging in the smokehouse all year, chickens to lay eggs and to eat, cows to give us milk and fields in which to grow food.  Country people were not impoverished.  They were simply poor.

     Neighbors and uncles around us were not quite so poor because they had been in the War, and veterans were eligible for a small pension if they had been disabled by their service experience.  The way Dr. Quinn saw it, everyone who had to leave home and family and go to war had been disabled by it.  So he was the county’s biggest industry.  It was he who must do the examination and report to the government his findings.  He always found something to report.  So every man who had spent any time at all in World War I received a pension…

     Then our poverty became a reality.  Not because of our having less, but by our neighbors having more.  For our daddy was not a veteran.

     But I do not recall our being unhappy as children.  And I do not recall our being happy.  A family of six during the depression, growing no more than five or six bales of cotton a year which sold for a few cents a pound, did not think in those terms.  Even married couples did not think in those terms.  Happiness was not something promised.  Happiness was not a part of the contract.  If it came, we experienced it without naming it.  If it didn’t, we couldn’t complain, not aware that we were due it or that it even existed.  No one ever said, “I’m not happy living with you so I’m leaving.”

     …If that was the way things were supposed to be and we grew up knowing that was the way things were supposed to be, what harm could there be in it?

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Philippians 4:11b-12  —  …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I Timothy 6:7-8  —  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

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

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A PRAYER FROM PROVERBS 30:7-9: 

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

1484) The Good News is Life Isn’t Fair

     Many people complain that life is just not fair.  But actually, when you think about, that’s a good thing.  

     The way to begin thinking about this is to ask ourselves what we had before God entered the picture; and of course, God entered the picture at the very beginning to give us life in the first place.   Before that we had nothing at all.  As long as we stay focused on where we began and realize that life itself is a gift, and birth is a sheer windfall for every one of us, then a spirit of astonishment and gratitude will never leave us.  Before you complain to the Dealer about the hand that you have been dealt in life, you need to remember that if it wasn’t for the love and grace of God, you would not have been dealt any hand at all.  When you forget that fact, and begin to make comparisons not to what you had at the beginning but to what someone else has, then the gratitude turns to accusation and grumbling, and faith and trust disappear.  The ‘amazing grace’ of God isn’t only that your sins have been forgiven.  Everything you have and everything you are, including the fact that you were even born, comes by the grace of God.  There is no other source of anything.

     Depending then on my ultimate point of reference, the words “life isn’t fair” come to mean diametrically opposite things.  When I remember the nothingness out of which I came and that life is gift and birth is windfall, then I say: “Of course life isn’t fair.  It is all grace from beginning to end.  To be alive at all is to be ahead of the game, and even to be born is an undeserved blessing.”  But if my beginning point is a comparison to someone else, the words “life isn’t fair” take on a negative tone.

     The crucial issue is always the fairness or unfairness of life compared to what?  The conclusions we come to at the end will be determined by where we chose to begin.

     I once knew a family who had a beautiful baby girl born to them who was normal in every way except she did not have arms or legs.  There was no explanation for this genetic abnormality.  However, instead of wasting any energy feeling sorry for themselves or for the child, this courageous and resourceful family set about to take her home and provide her with every advantage that they could.  As a result, she developed into a remarkably intelligent and interesting human being.  Her mind and spirit were highly cultivated, even though she was never able to move herself one inch, feed herself, dress herself, or do any of the things that the rest of us tend to take for granted.

     When she was some twenty years old, a roommate of one of her brothers came home from college to spend a weekend.  He was shocked at the sight of such an extremely deformed human being.  At the end of three days he said to this girl, “What keeps you from blowing up in rage against whatever kind of God would have allowed you to be born into the world like this?”

     The young woman looked at the lad and said, “I realize that what I have may not seem like much when compared to what everybody else has, but I wouldn’t have missed the chance to be alive for anything!  I’m able to think, to see, to smell, to hear, to taste.  I have had access to the world’s great music and literature, and to a wonderful network of human relationships.  When compared to what everybody else has, I know what I have may not seem like much.  But when I compare what I do have to not having been given the opportunity to live at all, I am profoundly grateful to God for giving me this life.”

     Here was a person who learned the secret of staying focused on the astonishing fact that all of life is a gift.  Playing the hand I’ve been dealt, grateful to just be in the game, is far more important than comparing myself to other people and being jealous of the seemingly better hands they have been dealt.

      This is why we should thank God that life isn’t fair.  You see, it all begins in grace, not in entitlement, and staying close to this single fact is the best resource I know for making both the best and the most of the particular hand each of you have been dealt.

     German preacher Helmut Thielicke was right when he said, “The goodness of God can never be seen through jealous eyes, for this involves looking in the wrong direction for what is most important.  The goodness of God is only seen through the eyes of gratitude.”

     So what are you looking at:  your neighbors’ blessings, with envy; or your own, with gratitude?

–adapted from a piece by John Claypool, Episcopal priest  (1931-2005)

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Job 1:21-22  —  (Job said), “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”  In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Psalm 139:14a  —  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 8:3-4  —  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

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O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 107:1

1483) Blessed Are the Peacemakers

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From Rick Warren’s Daily Hope devotional blog, April 28 & 29, 2017, at: http://www.pastorrick.com

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      Our natural tendency is to hate our enemies or at least to avoid them at all cost.  But if you run from conflict, you’re going to be miserable most of your life.  Jesus calls us to a higher standard.  He calls us to be peacemakers — not peacekeepers.  There’s a huge difference.  Peacekeepers avoid conflict and pretend it doesn’t exist.  But peacemakers resolve conflict and reconcile relationships.

     The Bible promises this: “Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness” (James 3:18 TLB).

     When you plant a seed, you always get back more than you started with.  If you plant an apple seed, you get a whole tree full of apples in return.  It’s the law of sowing and reaping.  If you plant a seed of conflict, you’ll wind up with a lot more trouble than you bargained for.  But the Bible says if you plant seeds of peace, you will reap a harvest of peace, kindness, and goodness in return.

     So how do you do that?  One of the most important life skills that you will ever learn is conflict resolution.  I want to share with you seven keys to becoming a peacemaker in the midst of conflict.

     1)  Make the first move.  Don’t wait for the person to come to you.  You take the initiative.  Buy that person a cup of coffee or go to lunch together.  Jesus took the initiative to show mercy to us.  The Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us …. While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Romans 5:8b, 10a ESV).  Jesus didn’t wait for us to apologize.  He didn’t even wait for us to feel bad about our behavior.  Jesus made the first move.  And he wants us to do the same thing.

     2)  Ask God for wisdom.  God is always glad to help you when you’re doing what he says.  The Bible says, “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you” (James 1:5a TLB).  Ask God to help you decide the right time and the right place to plan a peace conference.  Ask him to give you the right words to say and the right way to say them.  The Bible says, “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver” (Proverbs 25:11 CEV).

     3)  Start with your own confession.  Don’t start with a bunch of accusations.  Don’t start with the ways you’ve been hurt.  Start with what’s your fault.  The conflict may be 99% the other person’s fault.  But you can find something to confess.  Instead of accusing the other person — and instead of excusing yourself — start with your own mistakes, even if it was your poor response.  But you begin with what was your fault.

     4)  Listen to the other person’s pain and perspective.  You’ll always find hurt in a conflict.   Hurt people hurt people.  In other words, the more I’m hurting, the more I lash out at everybody else.  People who aren’t hurting don’t hurt others.  That’s why peacemakers listen to the other person’s hurt and gets that person’s perspective.  As Francis of Assisi once said, “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”  The Bible says, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:4-5 NLT, second edition).  That means you’re most like Jesus when you’re focusing on the hurts of somebody else rather than your own hurts.

     5)  Speak the truth tactfully.  The truth sets you free, but you have to say it with love.  The Bible says, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a NLT).  The truth is not enough.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.  If you speak offensively, it will be received defensively.  God is very specific about the kinds of words that are out of bounds.  I call them WMDs — Words of Mass Destruction.  These are words that raise the conflict to a whole new level.  Angry, hurtful, blaming words are useless.  They only stir up more trouble.  Colossians 3:8 says, “You must no longer say insulting or cruel things about others” (CEV).

     6)  Fix the problem, not the blame.  You need to learn to attack the issue, not each other.  The blame game is a waste of time.  Any time you’re busy fixing blame, you’re wasting energy and not fixing the problem.

     7)  Focus on reconciliation, not resolution.  Reconciliation means re-establishing the relationship.  It means you’re not holding onto any hurt.  You’ve buried the hatchet.   Resolution, on the other hand, means you resolve every single disagreement.  That won’t happen.  We’re all different.  We won’t agree on everything.  But peacemakers can disagree without being disagreeable.  That’s called maturity.

   Our world is filled with conflict: wars, divisions, arguments, stress between people, prejudices and racism, violence, tribalism, and terrorism.  Our civilization is no longer civil.  And as a result we have broken relationships, broken lives, and broken hearts.

     My challenge to you is that you will commit to becoming an agent of reconciliation in a world filled with conflict.

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 PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.

1482) Deliver Us From Evil

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     In the final petition of the Lord’s prayer we ask God to deliver us from evil.  Martin Luther’s Small Catechism also refers to such protection from evil in Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Apostle’s Creed where he says God, “defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.”  That sounds good, but anyone with two eyes can see that God does not always protect believers.  We are obviously not delivered from all evil.  Christians also get killed in terrible accidents, Christians also suffer and die from all kinds of painful diseases, Christians also face wars and famines and persecutions and all sorts of evil.  What does it mean to say that God guards and protects us from every evil?  

     In his Large Catechism and also in sermons on this petition, Luther says much more about how we should understand the word deliver in the petition.  Luther teaches that we must remember that God can deliver us in two ways.  One way is to guard and keep and protect us in this life, delivering us in the here and now from whatever threatens to harm or destroy us.  God often, but not always, does this.  The second way is to deliver us out of this whole world of evil.  Many things threaten us here, and someday, one of those threats will do us in and we will die.  But even then, God will keep His promise of deliverance, as death itself then becomes the deliverer, becoming for us the doorway to God’s eternal home in heaven.  Luther says in the catechism: “We pray here that our Father in heaven may deliver us from all manner of evil, whether it affect body or soul, property or reputation.  And then we can know that even when the end comes, and the hour of death comes to us, God will grant us a blessed end and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to himself in heaven.”  Therefore, Luther says, in the end God indeed delivers us from every manner of evil, because even when we die, death itself becomes the method of our deliverance.

     The petition ‘deliver us from evil’ can therefore be for us a either a huge PROBLEM or a wonderful PROMISE.  It becomes a ‘problem’ when we take the short term view, because then we will see all kinds of problems with such a belief.  Everyone could make a long list of things, saying, “Well, the Lord did not deliver me from this and he did not deliver me from that, so what is the matter with the Lord?  He does not seem to be very good at keeping his promise.”  But when we choose to take the long term view, we choose to have the faith that in the end, God will indeed deliver us from every evil for all time, when in death we join him in his heavenly home.

     The entire Bible is written with this long term view, this eternal perspective.  This is the hope in which we put our faith.  In the end, we will be delivered.  In the meantime, we pray that we may keep the faith; or, in other words, that we may not give in to temptation (as we pray in the sixth petition).  In his Large Catechism explanation to the sixth petition, Luther says that one of the most dangerous temptations is the temptation to lose the faith, and to fail to trust God.

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Matthew 6:13  —  (Jesus said), “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Galatians 1:3-5  —  Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Revelation 21:1a…3-5  —  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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The Seventh Petition

But deliver us from evil.

What does this mean?

We pray in this petition, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven would deliver us from all manner of evil, of body and soul, property and honor, and at last, when our last hour shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this vale of tears to Himself into heaven.