1623) This Explains Very Little

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From “A Tale of Two Families” by Philip Yancey, posted August 19, 2017 at: http://www.philipyancey.com

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     I have been reflecting on the families of two sisters.  The first, Joyce, ruled with the iron hand of legalism.  Her five kids obeyed a lengthy set of strict rules—“Because I say so, that’s why!”  Now grown, they tell me they acquiesced mainly out of fear of punishment.

     Joyce’s family devotions often centered on the Old Testament: Honor your parents, Fear the Lord, Stop grumbling.  The word grace rarely came up.  When her children got married, Joyce told them, “If your marriage fails, don’t bother coming back here.  You made a vow to God, so keep it.”

     All of Joyce’s children have struggled with self-image problems.  They admit it has taken many years for them to think of God as loving, and even now that concept seems more intellectual than experiential.  Joyce and her husband have softened into grandparents, but affection still does not come easily to anyone in the family.

     Yet here is a striking fact: defying an overwhelming national trend, all five of those children remain married to their original partners.  They’ve chosen jobs in the helping professions.  All but one are raising their own children in the faith.  At some level, strictness and legalism in this family produced results.

     In contrast to Joyce, her sister Annette determined to break out of the rigidity of their own upbringing.  She vowed not to punish her children, rather to love them, comfort them, and calmly explain when they did something wrong.  Her family devotions skipped right past the Old Testament and focused on Jesus’ astonishing parables of grace and forgiveness.

     Annette especially loved the story of the Prodigal Son.  “We are those parents,” she would tell her children.  “No matter what you do, no matter what happens, we’ll be here waiting to welcome you back.”

     Unfortunately, Annette and her husband would have many opportunities to role-play the parents of the prodigal.  One daughter contracted AIDS through sexual promiscuity.  Another is on her fourth marriage.  A son alternates between prison and a drug rehab center.

     Annette has kept her promise, though, always welcoming her children home.  She looks after the grandchildren, posts bail, covers mortgage payments—whatever it takes to live out her commitment of long-suffering love.  I marvel at her spirit of grace and acceptance.  “What do you expect?” she shrugs.  “They’re my children.  You don’t stop loving your own children.”

     I grew up in a home and church more like Joyce’s.  After a period of rejection and rebellion, I discovered a God of love and forgiveness.  (More accurately, God found me).  I ended up as a Christian writer, piping the tune of grace.  My brother, raised in the same environment, tossed faith aside.  He now attends what he calls an “atheist church”—a Sunday gathering of humanists who spend much time talking about and opposing a God they don’t believe in—and stocks his bookshelf with works by noted atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.

     “No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun,” concluded the Teacher of Ecclesiastes.  “Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning.  Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”

     A friend of mine, a wise counselor, says that human behavior can be explained by three things: nature (or heredity), nurture (including family upbringing), and free will.  Which, he quickly admits, explains very little, for those ingredients combine in different ways in all of us.  Loving, supportive families sometimes produce wounded and rebellious children; harsh or dysfunctional families sometimes produce the opposite.  In between lies mystery—and God’s grace.

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Ecclesiastes 8:17b  —  No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun.  Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning.  Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend 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.

Proverbs 13:24  —  If you refuse to discipline your son, it proves you don’t love him; for if you love him, you will be prompt to punish him. (Living Bible Translation)

Luke 15:21-24  —  (Jesus said), “The son said to him,‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick!  Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate.

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A PRAYER FOR THE FAMILY:

Almighty God, according to thy mercy relieve our distress and sorrow.  In thy goodness, spare us and our children.  Grant that in our homes we may keep and foster thy heavenly Word.  O thou who art good, kind, and bountiful, have compassion on us.  Grant us the necessities of daily life and keep our families securely in thy care, so that we may honor you forever and ever.  Amen.

–Philip Melancthon, reformer (1497-1560)

1622) First Be Reconciled

Retold from “The Deacon and My Uncle” by Glen Stone in Lutheran Forum magazine.

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     This story took place several decades ago in Denmark.  Glen Stone’s Uncle Soren was an outgoing, friendly, and jolly man, but not at all religious.  His neighbor was a deacon in the village church, and was in every way the opposite of Soren.  The deacon was a stern and harsh man, not friendly, and not likable at all.  But no one could doubt that he was deeply religious.

     Soren and the deacon were neighbors.  One day they got into a quarrel about the property line.  The argued frequently over it, speaking many unkind things to each other, and threatening legal action.  Finally, they quit talking to each other at all.

     This continued for many months.  Every Sunday, the sour faced deacon would trudge by Soren’s house on his way to church.  Every Sunday, Soren would sit at home, watching the deacon go by and laughing to himself about what a useless thing Christianity must be to produce such a crabby hypocrite.

     In Lutheran churches in Denmark at that time it was customary to go to communion only once a year, on Maundy Thursday.  On Wednesday evening of that week, the deacon came to Soren’s door, humbly asking if he could come in for a talk.  Soren couldn’t believe what he was seeing and stood there speechless for a moment.  Finally, with a bit of effort, he invited the deacon in and offered him a chair.

     The deacon told Soren that the next day there would be Holy Communion at the church, and it was his duty as a Christian and a deacon to faithfully receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The deacon went on to tell Soren that the Bible commands that if there is any trouble between you and your neighbor, you should first be reconciled before you come to the altar.  “Therefore,” said the deacon, “it would be against my conscience to go to Holy Communion with the hatred for you that I have in my heart.  So, I am here to tell you that you can have the property line as you claim it should be, and there will be no more trouble from me about it and no more bitterness in my heart toward you.”

     That brief word of reconciliation was all that was necessary.  The two men shook hands and were friends from that day on for the rest of their lives.  Not only that, but Soren said afterwards, “If that is what the Christian faith can do for a man, it is not to be ridiculed.”  True to his word, no more did Soren make fun of the church and all its hypocrites.  Rather, in time, he received Jesus as his Savior, joined the deacon’s church, and died a believing man.

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Matthew 5:21-22b…23-24  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…  Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

Mark 11:25  —  (Jesus said), “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Matthew 6:12  —  (Jesus said) “Forgive us as we forgive others.”

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Dear God, I have been wronged by my neighbor.  I did not deserve this of him.  But I must remember and consider how I stand with you.  Before you, I find a long account against me which convinces me that I have sinned a thousand times more against you, than my neighbor has done to me. Therefore, I must do as you say, by sincerely praying, “O Lord, forgive, and I will also forgive.”  Amen.     

–Martin Luther

1621) “I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My (Christian) Friends”

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Many in our society are worried about the negative impact of religion on society.  Recent appointees for government positions have been opposed because some senators worry about the influence of their “religious dogma” on their decisions.  One best-seller describes How Religion Poisons Everything (by Christopher Hitchens, 2007).  

But if your life was turned upside-down by Hurricane Harvey or Hurricane Irma you are not worried about, but grateful for the influence of ‘religious dogma’ on millions of people.  Once again, it is faith-based organizations that are providing most of the help in these areas devastated by storms– that’s right, not ‘some help,’ but most of the help, as described in this September 14, 2017 post at http://www.breakpoint.org (by John Stonestreet with Roberto Rivera).

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     “Florida Staggers Towards Long Recovery.”  That was among the headlines describing the impact Hurricane Irma had on the Sunshine State.

     Much of the same thing has been said about areas afflicted by Hurricane Harvey.  Though our national attention has been riveted on South Texas and Florida these past few weeks, soon the television crews will pack up and leave and will take our attention with them.

     So what will be left— or should we say, who will be left?  Only those who are committed to the long, difficult, and mostly anonymous work of helping and rebuilding.  In other words, people of faith.

     And not just a few.  The headline of a recent story in USA Today reads “Faith groups provide the bulk of disaster recovery, in coordination with FEMA.”

     The paper’s Washington correspondent, Paul Singer, begins by telling readers something they may not know:  “If you donate bottles of water, diapers, clothing or any other materials to hurricane victims in Texas or Florida, your donation will likely pass through the hands of the Seventh Day Adventists before it gets to a storm victim.”

     Who knew?  And Singer continues, “the Adventists, over several decades, have established a unique expertise in disaster ‘warehousing,’ collecting, logging, organizing and distributing relief supplies, in cooperation with government disaster response agencies.”

     As Singer tells readers, “In a disaster, churches don’t just hold bake sales to raise money or collect clothes to send to victims; faith-based organizations are integral partners in state and federal disaster relief efforts.  They have specific roles and a sophisticated communication and coordination network to make sure their efforts don’t overlap or get in each other’s way.”

     Singer went on to mention The Convoy of Hope and Samaritan’s Purse, while clarifying that these groups don’t “merely” supplement government relief efforts.  In many instances, they are the government response.  Not in the sense that their actions are directed by government but, instead, that government recognizes their integral role and seeks to facilitate their actions.

    Federal agencies such as FEMA and their state counterparts rely on these groups.  So much so that, as Singer tell us, FEMA ran interference for Samaritan’s Purse with other agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

   And there’s a lot more where that came from.  According to the CEO of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, an umbrella group, “About 80% of all recovery happens because of non-profits, and the majority of them are faith-based.”

     Let the implications of that number sink in.  And yet, as I have told you several times, an increasing percentage of Americans— nearly half— think “that the government could replace religious organizations and the charitable services they offer with no problems and nothing lost.”

     To see just how wrong this is, we only need to look at South Texas and Florida.

     But just as important as the efforts offered by people of faith is the reason why they do what they do.   The answer of course is, if I may paraphrase Senator Diane Feinstein’s anti-religious questioning of a judicial nominee last week, that the “dogma lives loudly in them.”

     They believe deeply in God, and that people are made in His image.  That God has been very kind and generous to them, and asks of His people, if I might use the summary of all Christian dogma offered by Jesus Christ Himself, that they love God with all they have and love their neighbors as themselves.

     If such dogma were at the volume that Feinstein and others found more acceptable, i.e., only hearable in the privacy of our own thoughts and houses of worship, well, Florida’s road to recovery would be a lot longer.

     But thank God that His people are everywhere, and for their deeply held dogmas that drive them to offer their time, their money, their talent and their treasure to those in need around them.

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See also:

Houston After Harvey: ‘Please Don’t Forget About Us’
Samaritan’s Purse | September 13, 2017
 
Faith-Based Groups Step Up Big-Time for Hurricane Victims
Steffani Marie Jacobs | Lifezette.com | September 11, 2017
 
Convoy of Hope Responds to Hurricane Irma
Program update | Convoy of Hope
 
Christian Organizations Are Doing More for Hurricane Relief than FEMA
Chris Queen | PJMedia.com | September 11, 2017

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James 2:14-17  —  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Galatians 6:2  —  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Hebrews 13:16  —  Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Matthew 10:8b  —  (Jesus said), “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Proverbs 3:27  —  Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.

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O Lord our heavenly Father, whose Son came not to be served but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom, patience, and courage, they may minister in His name to the suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him who laid down his life for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

1620) Is God Good? (b)

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     (…continued)  “We know that moral character gets formed through hardship, through overcoming obstacles, through enduring despite difficulties.  Courage, for example, would be impossible in a world without pain.  The apostle Paul testified to this refining quality of suffering when he wrote that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’

     “Let’s face it:  we learn from the mistakes we make and the suffering they bring.  The universe is a soul-making machine, and part of that process is learning, maturing, and growing through difficult and challenging and painful experiences.  The point of our lives in this world isn’t comfort, but training and preparation for eternity.  Scripture tells us that even Jesus ‘learned obedience through suffering’ — and if that was true for him, why wouldn’t it be even more true for us?”

     Kreeft let the question hang in the air for a moment while his mental gears whirred.  Then he continued.  “Suppose we didn’t have any suffering at all,” he added.  “Suppose we had drugs for every pain, free entertainment, free love — everything but pain.  No Shakespeare, no Beethoven, no Boston Red Sox, no death — no meaning.  Impossibly spoiled little brats — that’s what we’d become.

     “It’s like that old Twilight Zone television show where a bank robber gets shot and wakes up walking on fluffy clouds at the golden gate of a celestial city.  A kindly white robed man offers him everything he wants.  But soon he’s bored with the gold, since everything’s free, and with the beautiful girls, who only even laugh when he tries to hurt them.

     “So he summons the ‘St. Peter’ figure.  ‘There must be some mistake,’ he says.  ‘No, we make no mistakes here,’ he is told.  ‘Can’t you send me back to earth?’ the man asks.  ‘Of course not, you’re dead,’ the man in white replies.  ‘Well, then,’ the former bank robber says, ‘I must belong with my friends in the Other Place; send me there.’  ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that– rules, you know.’ is the firm reply.   ‘What is this place, anyway?’ the man asks.   ‘This is the place where you get everything you want,’ he is told.  ‘But I thought I was supposed to like heaven,’ he says.   And the man in white says:  ‘Heaven?  Who said anything about heaven?  This is the Other Place.’  

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     “The point is that a world without suffering appears more like hell than heaven.”

     “Do you really believe that?” I asked.

     “Yes, I do.  In fact, if you don’t, then pretend you’re God and try to create a better world in your imagination.  Try to create utopia.  But you have to think through the consequences of everything you try to improve.  Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom.  To prevent all evil, you must remove all freedom and reduce people to puppets, which means they would then lack the ability to freely choose love.

     “You may end up creating a world of precision that an engineer might like — maybe.  But one thing’s for sure: you’ll lose the kind of world that a Father would want.”

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“Whatsoever is good for God’s children they shall have it, for all is theirs to further them to heaven.  Therefore, if poverty be good to serve that greater purpose, they shall have it; if disgrace be good, they shall have it; if crosses by good, they shall have them; if misery be good, they shall have it– for all is ours, to serve for our greatest good.”

–Richard Sibbes, Anglican theologian  (1577-1635)

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Genesis 1:31a  —   God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. 

Romans 5:1-5  —  Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

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

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10

1619) Is God Good? (a)

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By best-selling author Lee Strobel with Boston College philosophy professor and author Peter Kreeft

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 “Is God really ‘all-good’ as Christians believe?” Peter Kreeft was asked by Lee Strobel.

      “Good is a notoriously tricky word,” Peter Kreeft began, “because even in human affairs there’s such a wide range of meaning.  But the difference between us and God is certainly greater than the difference between us and animals, and since good varies enormously between us and animals, it must vary even more enormously between us and God.”

     “Granted,” I said.  “But if I sat there and did nothing while my child got run over by a truck, I wouldn’t be good in any sense of the word.  I’d be an evil father if I did that.  And God does the equivalent of that.  He sits by and refuses to perform miracles to take us out of dangers even greater than being hit by a truck.  So why isn’t he bad?”

     Kreeft nodded. “It looks like he is,” he said.  “But the fact that God deliberately allows certain things, which if we allowed them would turn us into monsters, doesn’t necessarily count against God.”

     I couldn’t see his reasoning.  “You’ll have to explain why that is,” I said.

     “Okay, let me give you an analogy in human relationships,” he replied.  “If I said to my brother, who’s about my age, ‘I could bail you out of a problem but I won’t,’ I would probably be irresponsible and perhaps wicked.  But we do that with our children all the time.  We don’t do their homework for them.  We don’t put a bubble around them and protect them from every hurt.

     “I remember when one of my daughters was about four or five years old and she was trying to thread a needle for a Brownies project.  It was very difficult for her.  Every time she tried, she hit herself in the finger and a couple of times she bled.  I was watching her, but she didn’t see me.  She just kept trying and trying.

     “My first instinct was to go and do it for her, since I saw a drop of blood.  But wisely I held back, because I said to myself, ‘She can do it.’  After about five minutes, she finally did it.  I came out of hiding and she said, “Daddy, daddy — look what I did!  Look at what I did!’  She was so proud she had threaded the needle that she had forgotten all about the pain.

     “That time the pain was a good thing for her.  I was wise enough to have foreseen it was good for her.  Now, certainly God is much wiser than I was with my daughter.  So it’s at least possible that God is wise enough to foresee that we need some pain for reasons which we may not understand but which he foresees as being necessary to some eventual good.  Therefore, he’s not being evil by allowing that pain to exist.

     “Dentists, athletic trainers, teachers, parents — they all know that sometimes to be good is not to be kind.  Certainly there are times when God allows suffering and deprives us of the lesser good of pleasure in order to help us toward the greater good of moral and spiritual education.  Even the ancient Greeks believed the gods taught wisdom through suffering.  Aeschylus wrote: ‘Day by day, hour by hour / Pain drips upon the heart / As, against our will, and even in our own despite / Comes Wisdom from the awful grace of God.’  (continued…)

1618) Wisdom from St. Teresa of Avila

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By (or attributed to) St. Teresa of Avila, Spanish nun and reformer  (1515-1582):

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Never compare one person with another.  Comparisons are odious.

God has been very good to me, so I never dwell upon anything wrong which a person has done, so as to remember it afterwards. If I do remember it, I always try to see some other virtue in that person.

Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die; that you have only one life, which is short and has to be lived by you alone; and there is only one God, who is eternal.  If you do this, there will be many things about which you care nothing…  Remember that everything soon comes to an end, and take courage.  Think of how our gain is eternal.

Christ has no body now but yours; no hands and no feet on earth but yours.  Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.  Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.  Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.  Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.

Truth suffers, but never dies.

What a great favor God does to those He places in the company of good people.

Our body has this defect:  the more it is provided care and comforts, the more needs and desires it finds.

There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.

Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you.  All things are passing away.  God does not change.  Patience achieves everything.  Whoever has God lacks nothing.  God alone suffices.

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Matthew 22:37-39  —  Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mark 6:31-34  —  Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he (Jesus) said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  So he began teaching them many things.

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PRAYER FOR WHEN BUSY:

How is it, my God, that you have given me this hectic busy life so that I have so little time to enjoy your presence?  Throughout the day people are waiting to speak with me, and even at meals I have to continue talking to people about their needs and problems.  During sleep itself I am still thinking and dreaming about the multitude of concerns that surround me.  I do all this not for my own sake, but for yours.  To me my present pattern of life is a torment; I only hope that for you it is truly a sacrifice of love.  I know that you are constantly beside me, yet I am usually so busy that I ignore you.  If you want me to remain so busy, please force me to think about and love you even in the midst of such hectic activity.  If you do not want me so busy, please release me from it, showing how others can take over my responsibilities.  Amen.

–St. Teresa of Avila

1617) Dead or Alive

By Chris Brekke

     Sometimes a person will get to the point where they are not sure whether it’s better to live or to die.  On most of our pleasant and prosperous days in this blessed nation, we just cruise on with life.  With little depth of awareness, we will often go about our days with things to do and places to go and people to see.  We’re quite occupied with so many things.  That can become the normal state of affairs.  One could say that we are normally blissfully ignorant.  But not always.  Someday, there will come an off-ramp from easy street and we will be face to face with our mortality.  If the situation is grim enough we may even wonder if death might be preferable.  I have friends faced with the terrible decision to either trudge on with painful cancer treatments, or, “get their affairs in order”.   Perhaps you do as well.

     The prospect of death is on the mind of St. Paul in Philippians 1:21-26.  He is sitting in a prison cell, probably in Rome, with plenty of service scars accumulated, a legion of opponents out to get him, and a possible execution looming.  Death may be near; and because of his assurance of the resurrection in Christ, Paul almost longs for it.  His “desire is to depart and be with Christ”.  He is “hard-pressed” on earth, so the heavenly banquet is quite inviting.  Paul knows that death is not the end for the Christian; it is a promotion!

     Yet while we “remain in the flesh” there is valuable work to be done.  You can sense Paul’s tilt toward staying on earth for now, because he still has work to do.  There is “fruitful labor” for him that is “necessary on your account.”  For Paul and for us, as long as God gives us breath, in ways large or small, we are employed by the King of Love.   As Paul puts it in Romans 14:8 “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”  We know not what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.  

     One day at a time, we live for Christ.  In this life and the next – in today and in tomorrow – we glory in Jesus.

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Philippians 1:21-26  —   For to me, to live is Christand to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

Romans 14:7-9  —  For none of us lives for ourselves alone,and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

II Corinthians 4:18-20  —   Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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O Lord,
support us all the day long of this troubled life,
until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in thy mercy,
grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest,
and peace at the last.
Amen.

–Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

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1616) Keeping it Real

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From Job 16:7-17  —  

Surely, God, you have worn me out;
    you have devastated my entire household.
You have shriveled me up…
God assails me and tears me in his anger
    and gnashes his teeth at me
God has turned me over to the ungodly
    and thrown me into the clutches of the wicked.
All was well with me, but he shattered me;
    he seized me by the neck and crushed me.
He has made me his target;
his archers surround me…
Again and again he bursts upon me;
    he rushes at me like a warrior.

My face is red with weeping,
    dark shadows ring my eyes…

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From The Color of the Night, by Gerhard Frost, pp. 70-71, Augsburg Publishing House, 1977:

     This is perhaps the lowest point in the Book of Job.  Here the suffering one bluntly accuses God of being an active enemy.  In dramatic detail he pictures the Lord’s attack.

     I lived with this book for many years, believing that this picture of the Enemy God was overdrawn and untrue to the believer’s experience.  “It can’t be as bad as that!” I thought.  The change came, for me, when my own 11-year-old led me into the deep valley of her pain.

     She had post-polio surgery involving muscle transplants, radical incisions in the foot and leg.  Pain was intense, especially throughout the night following surgery.  I remember her mother and I standing at her bedside that morning, saddened by her drawn face and fevered lips– evidence of the anguish she had endured.  My wife spoke to her comfortingly, “But you did pray, though, didn’t you?”  Looking almost defiantly at us, the child exclaimed, “Yes.  But mother, last night, for a while it seemed like God was my enemy!”

     Since then I have reflected that if a child can be required to endure such a fearful sense of abandonment, this experience cannot be far from any of us.  And I must add that in the intervening years I, too, have looked into such an abyss of spiritual desolation.

     It is best to be realistic about the blackouts and eclipses which can come without warning, even to those who have lived with God through the high places and low places of many years.  We are indebted to all believers of every age who have survived the wild and lonely valleys of desolation, and reported back to us that God is there and will bring us through.

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Psalm 6:1-3  —  

Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
    or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
    heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
    How long, Lord, how long?

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Habakkuk 1:2  —  

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
    but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
    but you do not save?

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Psalm 71:19-21  —  

Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
    you who have done great things.
    Who is like you, God?
Though you have made me see troubles,
    many and bitter,
    you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will again bring me up.
You will increase my honor
    and comfort me once more.

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

Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

–Jesus on the cross, Matthew 27:46 and Luke 23:46

1615) Joan of Arc and Me

           Part of the reason I am a Christian today is because of the life of Joan of Arc 600 years ago (see previous meditaion).  Let me explain.

            The young Joan, growing up in her little village, loved hearing Bible stories; most importantly the stories of Jesus, but also the many other stories of God’s faithful people in the Old and New Testaments.  These stories inspired her, and her own faith was strengthened by hearing them.  Then Joan went on to live her own faithful and inspiring life, and then her faith became an inspiration to everyone around her, and then, for many years after her death.

            One of the most brilliant intellectuals and writers of the early 20th century was the Englishman G. K. Chesterton.  Chesterton grew up in a home that was not religious, and only in his twenties did he become a Christian.  He said reading about the life of Joan of Arc was a factor in his conversion.   He went on to use his incredible intelligence and wit and writing skills to write powerful books defending the truth of Christianity. 

            These books influenced many people, including an atheist named C. S. Lewis, who was a generation younger than Chesterton.  The writings of Chesterton became one of the reasons C. S. Lewis changed his mind on atheism, and became a Christian.  C. S. Lewis, another brilliant writer and intellectual, also went on to write many books, most of which described and defended the Christian faith.  He became the best-selling Christian author of the 20th century, and all of his books are still in print.  He has influenced three generations of Christians, along with changing the minds of many unbelievers, atheists, and near-atheists, including myself

            Lewis was the writer that was most important to me in my own search for faith and understanding when I was almost ready to give up on believing in Jesus.  That is the connection between Joan of Arc and me.

            Now as I said, Joan of Arc is part of the reason that I believe in in Jesus.  There have also been the crucial influences of my parents and grandparents and other believers and the church.  That is how it works, this passing on of the faith from generation to generation. 

            ‘Rally Sunday’ yesterday at my congregation marked the beginning of Sunday School at my church.  And the purpose of Sunday School is to pass on the faith to the next generation.  Faith is not passed on automatically by genetics, like eye and hair color.  Nor is faith passed on like money and land, by wills, trusts, and inheritance laws.  “Faith comes by hearing,” says Romans 10, and has to be passed on by words, spoken or written, and, by the faithful lives of those who speak that Word. 

            And much of what we do in all this is simply the telling of these stories—Bible stories, the stories of God’s faithful people throughout the generations, and our own stories of how God has been active in our own lives.  If faith comes by hearing, as Paul says, then someone has to be doing the telling.  Worship, Sunday School, and confirmation are some of the places where that telling is done and where faith is given the opportunity to take root and grow.

            One hundred years ago right now, World War I was raging across northern France, on some of the same land over which Joan of Arc led the French army.  A young Englishman was mortally wounded and dying in the arms of his friend.  The dying man asked his friend to do him a favor.  He told him the name of a man, and the city in which he could be found.  He said, “That man was my Sunday School teacher.  I would like you to find him and tell him that what he taught me is now helping me to die with faith in Jesus and with peace in my heart.” 

            The friend did survive the war, followed up on the promised favor, and found the man his dead friend asked him to find.  He knocked on the door, and an elderly man answered.  He was told there was a message for him from a former Sunday School student.  That student, killed at the front, wanted his old teacher to know that what he learned in Sunday School enabled him to face death with faith, courage, and peace. 

            Upon hearing this, the old man began to sob.  He invited the young man in and they sat down.  When the man was finally able to speak, he said:  “Yes, I do remember that boy.  He was in one of the last classes I ever taught.  You see, I quit teaching Sunday School several years ago because I became convinced that I wasn’t doing any good.  I guess I was wrong.”

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Psalm 78:5b-7  —  (God) commanded our ancestors to teach their children (his commands), so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.  Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Psalm 145:3-4  —  Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.  One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.

Psalm 79:13  —  We your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.

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Psalm 71:16-18:

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LordI will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.  Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.  Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

Image result for faith to the next generation images

1614) Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc, as drawn by a soldier in her army

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            Joan of Arc was born in 1412 in a small town in northeast France.  Her parents were very religious, and she grew up close to the church.  She loved spending time there, hearing all the old Bible stories of Jesus, Mary, the disciples, David, Moses, Joseph, and all the other people of faith in the Bible.  Being Roman Catholic, she also heard stories of the many saints who lived faithful lives in the years since Bible times.  Joan was inspired by these stories, and though she never learned to read or write, she had a deep faith in Jesus Christ and was devoted to serving God.

         Joan lived near the end of the Hundred Years War between France and England.  This war was fought entirely in France and devastated the nation.  English troops often used a ‘scorched earth’ policy, destroying villages, farms, and crops in defeated areas.  Joan’s own village of Domremy had been burned by English soldiers.  The English were firmly in control in Northern France during Joan’s childhood.

            When she was thirteen years old, Joan received a vision of three saints, Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret.  They told her that God wanted her to lead the armies of France and drive out the English.  Joan said, “I am a poor girl.  I do not know how to ride or to fight.”  The saints told her, “It is God who commands this.”

            The faithful Joan was not about to disobey God, so she asked a relative to give her a ride to a nearby town where some French troops were stationed.  She spoke to the company commander and told him she wanted to be brought to see the King because she had a message for him from the Lord God Almighty.  The commander said, “Are you nuts?” (or something like that), and sent her away.  A few months later, she tried again, this time finding a soldier who at least listened long enough for her to say: “I must be at the King’s side.  There will be no help for France if not from me.  I would rather remain at my mother’s side spinning wool, but I must do this, for it is the Lord who commands it.”

            It took a while, but at the age of seventeen, Joan finally appeared before the King.  He was impressed with her, and allowed her to join the army.  One historian wrote, “After years of defeat, the French leadership and military were discredited and demoralized.  Only in desperation would a king pay any attention to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God instructed her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory.”

            Joan joined the army, and in no time at all, she became its spiritual and inspirational leader, fearlessly leading the troops into battle.  In time, she was even looked to for advice on military strategy.  In the year that she led the army, they enjoyed remarkable success, and against all odds, drove the English back.  It was nothing short of miraculous. 

            When Joan was eighteen, she was betrayed and captured.  After a long trial, she was sentenced to death, and burned at the stake at the age of nineteen. 

            Twenty five years after her death, the Pope ordered a retrial, at which she was declared innocent.  As time went on, the church began to acknowledge her devotion and obedience to God, and saw her death as the death of a martyr of the faith.  In 1909 the Roman Catholic Church canonized her as a saint. 

            There is much more that could be said about Joan of Arc—her courage, her leadership, and her powerful words of faith were amazing.  Visions from God are rare, but such occurrences are in the Bible, and in Joan’s case, the visions seem to be valid.  But even that is not the most astounding part of her story.  Even more astounding was the way God was with her, gifting her and guiding her after the visions.  This was just a brief overview.  There are countless astonishing details in her well documented life.

            Mark Twain was a cynic and a skeptic and a bitter critic when it came to most things religious— except regarding Joan of Arc.  He was fascinated by Joan and her faith, and he spent twelve years studying her life.  Twain wrote a biography of Joan which he said he liked best of all his books.  Twain said Joan of Arc was by far the most extraordinary person the human race ever produced.  He wrote of her:

When we reflect that her century was the brutalest, the wickedest, the rottenest in history since the darkest ages, we are lost in wonder at the miracle of such a product from such a soil.  The contrast between her and her century is the contrast between day and night.  She was truthful when lying was the common speech of men; she was honest when honesty was become a lost virtue; she was a keeper of promises when the keeping of a promise was expected of no one; she gave her great mind to great thoughts and great purposes when other great minds wasted themselves upon pretty fancies or upon poor ambitions; she was modest, and fine, and delicate when to be loud and coarse might be said to be universal; she was full of pity when a merciless cruelty was the rule; she was steadfast when stability was unknown, and honorable in an age which had forgotten what honor was; she was a rock of convictions in a time when men believed in nothing and scoffed at all things; she was unfailingly true to an age that was false to the core; she maintained her personal dignity unimpaired in an age of fawnings and servilities; she was of a dauntless courage when hope and courage had perished in the hearts of her nation; she was spotlessly pure in mind and body when society in the highest places was foul in both.  She was all these things in an age when crime was the common business of lords and princes, and when the highest personages in Christendom were able to astonish even that infamous era and make it stand aghast at the spectacle of their atrocious lives black with unimaginable treacheries, butcheries, and beastialities.

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Joan of Arc was perhaps the most wonderful person who ever lived in the world.  The story of her life is so strange that we could scarcely believe it to be true, if all that happened to her had not been told by people in a court of law, and written down by her deadly enemies, while she was still alive.

–Andrew Lang, The Story of Joan of Arc, 1906.

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Luke 10:27  —  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Romans 12:1  —  I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

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 If I am not in the state of grace, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.

–Joan of Arc, at her trial, February 24, 1431.