1664) 500 Years Ago This Week (c)

Image result for 95 theses images

 ———————

      (…continued)  Martin Luther worked through his disappointment with the church by simply continuing to focus on God’s Word.  He looked past all the abuses of the church, going deeper to find what was central the Christian faith.  He did not accept the church’s claim to have authority over God’s Word, and wanted to see for himself what God’s Word said.  He looked beyond all the ways the church had misinterpreted and misunderstood God’s Word, and then found much more than an angry God that was never satisfied.  The wrath of God was still there; that cannot be missed or explained away, as Luther often said in the catechism that “we should fear and love God.”

     But then Luther found out why we could still love God.  And we can love God because of Jesus.  God sent Jesus because, as Jesus said of himself in John 3:16-17, “For God so LOVED the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever BELIEVES in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did NOT send his Son into the world to CONDEMN the world, but to save the world through him.”  And so, as it says in Romans 3:21-22: “Now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been made known, and this righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  Luther discovered faith was the key; faith, not endless, impossible obedience to a God who was always angry and never satisfied.  The single most important verse that opened Luther’s eyes to the love of God was Romans 1:17 which said, “The righteous will live by faith.”

     Luther did not give up, but moved beyond his disappointment to what was to its very center, and he simplified the message of God’s Word to what mattered most of all.  There are four basic truths, said Luther.  The first is FAITH alone, not subservient obedience to an impossible code of Law.  The second is GRACE alone, and not buying this piece of paper or trinket to reduce your time in purgatory.  Third is God’s WORD alone, and not the layers of false teaching and corruptions piled on by fifteen centuries of councils and popes and decrees, which Luther pointed out contradicted each other time and again.  Now everyone, even the common person, should go back to God’s WORD alone.  Therefore, along with everything else he accomplished, Luther translated the entire Bible into German, which had not only not ever been attempted, but which had been strictly forbidden.  And fourth, at the center of it all was CHRIST alone, the kind and loving face of God, sent to live for us and to be an example for us, and finally to die give his life for us.  It was by his shed blood we were saved, and not by contributions to the church in Rome.

       Luther proclaimed that simple message, focusing on Christ alone, just as Paul did in I Corinthians 2:1-5 where he said: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God.  Rather, I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you with weakness and great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

     Luther remained faithful to the Holy Roman Catholic church, seeking to reform it, until he was thrown out and excommunicted.  Even then, he continued to remain faithful to the church, which was, as he now said, wherever God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity.  Even that church continued to disagree, fight, torment and disappoint him– but Luther’s faith was no longer in the church.  He would go to church, he would lead the church, and he would love and serve the church—but his faith was not in the church, but in Jesus.

     That is one powerful lesson for all of us from the Reformation and the life of Martin Luther.  The church and those who serve in it is God’s way of working in the world, and we learn and grow in faith and love and obedience by working within it.  But we must always remember that the church is here only to point us beyond itself, to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Today we celebrate, among other things, the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther reminding us of that fact.

********************************************

I Corinthians 2:1-5  —  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God.  Rather, I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you with weakness and great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

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

Acts 4:11-12  —  Jesus is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

I John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

********************************************

A PRAYER FOR THE CHURCH by MARTIN LUTHER: 
Almighty and everlasting God, we pray first for the spiritual kingdom and the blessed Gospel ministry.  Give us devout and faithful preachers who will bring forth the treasure of your divine Word in its truth and purity.  Graciously guard us against heresies and divisions.  Look not upon our great ingratitude, for which we have long ago deserved that you should withdraw your Word from us.  Do not chastise us as severely as we deserve.  Let other calamities befall us, rather than deprive us of your precious Word.  Give to us thankful hearts that we may love your Word, prize it highly, hear it with reverence, and improve our lives accordingly.  May we not only understand your Word, but also meet its requirements by our deeds, live in accordance with it, and daily increase in faith and good works.  Amen.  –Martin Luther

Advertisements

1663) 500 Years Ago This Week (b)

Related image

Martin Luther monument, Dresden, Germany

————-

      (…continued)  Did Martin Luther find peace with God by becoming a monk?  Not at all.  Luther was an intense man, giving himself completely to his studies.  What he saw in the church’s teaching and in his own reading of the Bible was an angry, and punishing God, who was never satisfied no matter what anyone did or how holy they became.  Luther feared this God, feared death, feared hell, and fell into deep despair.  He said to another monk, “I know we are supposed to love God, but how can I?  I do not love this God of wrath.  I hate him, and so I stand condemned and fear the fires of hell even more.”

     Luther was sent from his monastery in Germany to Rome with a message.  This unexpected opportunity that Luther hoped might inspire him, only deepened his despair.  There he saw first-hand the awful corruption of the church.  This Holy City had become a place of immorality worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, and the church had become obsessed with making money.  Priests were selling Christ’s precious forgiveness of sins to the common people, who had no idea what the Bible said about anything.  Prostitutes were everywhere, and bishops and cardinals were openly living in sin, fathering illegitimate children all over the place.  Luther left Rome disgusted, angered, and even more depressed.

     Imagine how disappointed Luther must have been.  This twenty-something, intense, and deeply religious young man sacrificed everything to serve God and the Holy Church.  If it hadn’t been for that thunderstorm, by this time Luther could have been living a wonderful life of wealth, honor, and prestige, with friends and family around him.  But he sacrificed all that, only to find a God that he could not love and a church that made him sick.  What a devastating disappointment!

     Have you ever been disappointed by the church?  We have recently surveyed our congregation, and we learned that there is a high level of satisfaction in our church at this time, and what a blessing that is.  We all know that it is not always that way in the church.  The survey also revealed that many people say our congregation feels to them like a family—and that is a great blessing.  But we all also know that families fight sometimes.  And that has happened here– and at every other church that has ever existed.  Church can be a blessing and church can be an affliction— there is that mixture here just like in every other aspect of life in this world.

     Martin Luther was disappointed by the church in some dramatic ways.  Our disappointments may come in less dramatic ways.  If you get involved in serving God in the church, as a pastor or as lay person, you may, at times, find yourself being overworked, underappreciated, and misunderstood.  You might also be unfairly criticized, accused by some as being too strict and judgmental, and by others as being to wishy-washy and unable to tell it like it is.  And you will also find that even the best people in the church often have very different agendas, are not always on the same page, and sometimes not even in the same book.

     For some unknown reason, God has given people like us the task of getting his Word out to the world.  And sinners that we are, we will frustrate and disappoint each other.  What should we do then?  What did Luther do?

     I’ll return to that in a moment, but first another question.  Have you, like Luther, ever been disappointed by God?  Luther left everything, and then, the more he learned about God, the more he hated God.  Have you ever really dug into the Bible to get all your questions answered,only to end up with more questions than you started with?  Have you ever been faced with a situation that made you pray like you never prayed in your life; and you did not get what you asked for?  Have you ever wondered what God is up to in your life and why things happen the way they do?  Do you have that all figured out yet?  And if not, do you get disappointed with God?  And what do you do then?  What did Luther do?

     This is one of the lessons of the Reformation and Martin Luther’s life.  It is important to see what Luther did with his disappointment in the church and in God.  This is important because so many people react to this inevitable disappointment by giving up— giving up on God, giving up on faith, giving up on each other, and giving up on the church.  Luther did not do that.  He took a different path.  (continued…)

******************************

Jeremiah 20:7-9 (Jeremiah expresses his disappointment with God)  —  You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed.  I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.  Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction.  So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.  But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.  I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Jeremiah 15:18  —  (again expressing his frustration with God)  Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.

II Corinthians 1:8-10  —  (Paul describes his hardships serving the church)  We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death.  But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again.  On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.

******************************

 Lord, what you do not do remains undone.  If you will not help, I will gladly give it up.  The cause is not mine.  Therefore, I seek no glory in it.  I will cheerfully be your mask and disguise if only you will do the work.  Amen.

–Martin Luther

1662) 500 Years Ago This Week (a)

Image result for martin luther reformer images

—————–

John 3:16-17–  (Jesus said), “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

***************************************

     Five hundred years ago this week, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted on the church door in Wittenberg, Germany, a list of 95 theses, or statements, he believed needed to be discussed and debated by the Holy Roman Catholic Church, of which he was a loyal and faithful monk, priest, and professor.  To post such statements on the church door was the usual way to initiate a discussion in that university town, similar to writing a letter to the editor today.  Much to Luther’s surprise, the bishops, cardinals, and pope were not interested in such a discussion.  Instead, they told him to keep his big mouth shut or he would be sorry.  And in those days, being in trouble with the church also meant being in trouble with the government, namely Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, ruler of all central Europe.  Luther had many reasons to keep his big mouth shut; but he would not keep quiet.  Even though Charles and Pope Leo tried to have him killed, Luther kept speaking and writing.  The abuses in the church he condemned were well known, people were ready for reform, and Luther quickly became one of the most famous men in Europe.  The Gutenberg press had just been invented, and Luther’s books and pamphlets were instant best sellers.  At one point, one-fourth of everything in print in all of Europe was by Martin Luther.  The Reformation he started 500 years ago this week changed not only the church, but the whole world.  He is usually listed in the top three of the most important people of the last one thousand years.

     Let’s back up a little.  At one time there was only one Christian denomination—the Roman Catholic Church, with its center in Rome.  The word catholic, small ‘c’, means universal (that’s why it is in our creed even though we are Lutherans).  And, for 1,000 years the Roman Catholic Church was universal, with every Christian on earth belonging to it.

     In 1054 A.D. there was a split in the church between East and West—the church in Eastern Europe, Russia, and some of North Africa split off from Rome and became the Eastern Orthodox Church—Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, etc..  From then on, Christianity has been divided.  But the church in central and western Europe remained united for another 450 years.

     In the 1400’s, this Roman Catholic Church began to crack apart again.  Many aspects of the church had become very corrupt and unbiblical, and people began to speak out against it.  This was before the days of free speech, and dissenters were routinely burned at the stake, or, put to death in some other unpleasant way.  The church, with help from the harsh medieval government, was able for a time, to snuff out these isolated calls for reform.  But in 1483 Martin Luther was born into a world ripe for change.  God gave him a brilliant mind and a courageous spirit, he was born into a favorable local political environment which protected him from arrest and execution, people were fed up with the church after six terrible popes in a row, and the printing presses were rolling.  And God used that man and that moment in time to change everything.

     The Roman Catholic Church itself corrected many of its abuses in the decades and centuries after the Reformation, and it is a far different church today.  But all will admit that the church was an outrageous mess in 1517.

     There are many ways to tell the story of the Reformation.  This is just a very little bit about a very big and very complex history.  But I want to focus on Martin Luther’s personal story, and describe a bit of the inner struggle that led him to take on the whole world. I do this not only as a history lesson, but to eventually get around to the words of Jesus in John 3:16-17 that began this meditation.

     It was not the lifelong dream of Martin Luther to become a monk and a priest.  He had originally intended to be a lawyer, which made his father very happy.  Lawyers made good money, Luther was a brilliant student, and he was on the verge of a promising and lucrative career.

     Then, while walking on a country road one night, he got caught in a thunderstorm.  It must have been a violent storm, because Luther feared for his life.  In his anxiety, he prayed, promising that if God spared him, he would become a monk.  Luther survived storm and kept his promise.

     Luther abandoned his plans to become a lawyer, became an Augustinian monk, and entered a monastery.  His father was furious.  How could Martin support his parents when they got old now that he took a vow of poverty?  (This was long before the days of Social Security, and parents depended on their sons to provide for them in their old age.)  In a moment of fear, Luther had given up the chance to be wealthy, the opportunity to marry and have a family, and the prestige that would go with being an important lawyer, along with alienating his parents.  His dad angrily told Martin that if he wanted to be so religious he could start by obeying the fourth commandment and ‘Honor his father and his mother.’  It saddened Luther to go against his earthly father, but he was determined to keep his promise to his heavenly father.  (continued…)

********************************

O Lord, you see  how unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office.  Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed in it long ago.  Therefore, I call upon you for guidance.  Gladly indeed will I give my heart and my voice to this service.  I want to teach the people.  I myself want constantly to seek and study your Word, and eagerly meditate upon it.  Use me as your instrument.  Only, dear Lord, do not forsake me; for if I am left alone, I will most certainly ruin everything.  Amen.

–Martin Luther  (1483-1546)

1661) Lights Out, or, An Eternal Promise?

By Lee Strobel, reprinted from: http://www.biblegateway.com

     Sometimes I think back to the days when I was convinced there was no God.  I would lie awake at night and think about the ultimate hopelessness of life.  I believed that when we die, that’s it.  Lights out.  There’s nothing more.

     That’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it?  About one out of four Americans thinks that death is the end of their human existence, and that idea breeds hopelessness— a hopelessness so dark that many can’t face it, so they revert to false forms of hope.  They engage in wishful thinking: “Maybe when I die, I’ll be reincarnated or something.”  Or they leap into blind optimism: “I just won’t think about it.  By the time I get around to dying, they’ll have a cure for whatever I’ve got.”  Others pursue hopeful dreams by saying, “I’ll watch my carbs, run the treadmill, cut my weight, and lengthen my lifespan.”

     Those defense mechanisms may make people feel better, but they don’t change the reality that death still plays a perfect game: one out of one ends up dead.  And death has an annoying habit of being completely unpredictable.

     I was talking about the inevitability of death with a computer salesman named Jeff Miller, who attended our church.  He told me about a fateful flight he had taken from Denver to Chicago.  About forty minutes before they were to land at O’Hare International Airport, there was a muffled explosion, and the plane swung to the side so violently that the book Jeff was reading flew out of his hands.  As it turned out, the engine in the tail had exploded, and the plane’s steering was severely crippled.

     As the plane made the approach for an emergency landing in Sioux City, Iowa, it became clear that the situation was desperate.  Jeff told me that some of the people around him began trembling and crying from fear.  Others put on an air of optimism and kept telling themselves there was nothing to worry about.  But Jeff, who had been a Christian for several years, spent the time praying a simple prayer that was anchored in hope.

     He said, “Thank you, Lord, that you’re mine and I’m yours.  God, I want to live, but I know if I don’t, I’ll be with you, and you’ll care for my family.”  Jeff had a confident expectation that God would fulfill his promises to him.

     You may have seen the video of that plane when it scraped awkwardly onto the runway, broke apart, cartwheeled, and exploded into orange flames.  Jeff braced himself for a violent death, but it never came.  His piece of the fuselage tumbled into a cornfield, where it came to a stop, upside down.  Jeff hung there, suspended in his seat, with not a mark on him.

     I asked Jeff, “What was it like when everyone knew the plane was going down?  I mean, people don’t usually survive airplane crashes.  Was there a feeling of being in a hopeless situation?”

     He said, “Lee, I’ll tell you the truth.  It was scary, but at the same time I felt like I was full of hope.  I mean, there was hope if I lived, and there was the hope that if I died, I’d be with Christ.  It’s like it says in Psalm 118:6: ‘What can anybody do to you if your hope is in the Lord?’”

     How we face death tells us a lot about how we’ll face life.  The Bible says that because followers of Christ have the hope of eternity, they can live their lives with boldness and strength.

     When you have the confident expectation that God will live up to his promises, it changes the way you think about death.  I know it has for me.

     My prayer is that, moving ahead, you’ll base your hope not on wishful thinking or any of the other counterfeit versions, but on the One who has the power to truly change your life and assure your eternity.

*************************************************

Psalm 118:6a  —  The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. 

Romans 14:7-9  —  None of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Philippians 1:20-25  —  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  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.

*************************************************

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)

—————–

Image result for sioux city iowa plane crash

United Airlines Flight 232 crash landing in Sioux City, Iowa, July 19, 1989.  In what has been called one of the most amazing life-saving events in aviation history, 185 of the 296 passengers on board survived.

1660) “Consider the Wigglypuffs…?”

Image result for wigglypuff

A Wigglypuff

————————————-

Could our technology-filled lives be keeping our kids from knowing God and Scripture in a crucial way?

From “Consider the Pokeman of the Field: Children Isolated from Nature”, by Eric Metaxas and Shane Morris, October 24, 2017, at http://www.breakpoint.org

—————————

     I doubt anyone listening to Jesus when He said, “Consider the lilies of the field,” scratched their heads and asked Him, “What are lilies?”  But it’s not difficult to imagine a modern audience asking Christ to explain His flower references.

     Writing at The Guardian, Robert Macfarlane spotlights a study published in “Science” by researchers from Cambridge.  Using picture cards, these scientists asked children to identify common British animal and plant species like bluebells, herons, otters, oak trees, badgers, and wrens.  The kids, who were between the ages of eight and eleven, couldn’t even identify half of the pictures.

     They were then shown make-believe creatures from the Japanese card game and cartoon series, Pokémon.  These included animated oddities like the Arbok, the Bulbasaur, and the Wigglypuff.

     The kids were able to identify a staggering eighty percent of these imaginary critters, by name!

     “Young children clearly have tremendous capacity” for learning about living things, wrote the researches, but they’re “currently more inspired by synthetic subjects” than by “living creatures.”  This famine of knowledge about the natural world, they conclude, is linked to kids’ “growing isolation from it.”

     Now why does any of this matter?  Well, because a manmade world filled with man-made creatures is a world drained of wonder.  Barely three generations ago, looking up at the Milky Way was a nearly universal human experience.  Now, only those lucky enough to have camped out West or spent a night at sea have beheld the stars as God created them.

     That’s more than just sad.  It’s a worldview problem.  The Bible constantly refers to nature.  We first meet God in Scripture not as Savior or Father, but as Creator.  The Psalmist invites us to “consider the heavens” and writes that they “declare the Glory of God.”  When he compares his thirst for God to the way a deer runs toward water, most people in the modern world miss the impact of those words.  They’ve never seen a deer do that.

     Much of Job is an appeal to nature as proof of God’s power and sovereignty.  And Jesus Himself took scarcely a breath between natural metaphors.  “Birds have nests and foxes have dens,” He said, “yet the son of man has no place to lay his head.”

     For the modern reader—especially the modern child—many of these references lack their original power.  Quite simply, our isolation from nature has become isolation from God’s Word.  Cocooned in our man-made world of climate-controlled homes, cars, subways, and high-rises, we’re finding it easier to live as practical atheists.  I suspect even those of us who believe in the God of creation lack the wonder our ancestors felt toward Him while lost in a starry sky, or stooped beside a flower.

   Fortunately, the solution is as easy as stepping outside.  We may have city lights and the glow of touch screens to obscure our view, but God’s world is still near at hand, even right here in New York City where I live.

     So for you and your kids, simple things can make a huge difference.  You can instill in them a sense of awe for the natural world by visiting a community garden.  Pick up books on birds or plants from the library and take the time to notice and identify each living thing.

     One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.  Why not schedule a visit?

     Do not underestimate the power of these experiences.  They will shape your child’s worldview and yours.  And they will inspire wonder in the God of creation as no Pokémon ever could.

*****************************************

Matthew 6:28-29  —  (Jesus said), “Why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.”

Psalm 19:1  —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Genesis 1:1…31a  —  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

*****************************************

PSALM 8:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens…
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?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Image result for lilies images

1659) Tested By Affliction and By Success

Related image

Rick Warren (1954- ) and Matthew Warren (1986-2013)

—–

Two devotions by Rick Warren atwww.pastorrick.org  October 20 and 22, 2017

————————

     You’ll face trials in life, no doubt about it.

     But God will use them to free you.

     In fact, sometimes what others expect will enslave you, God uses to liberate you.  He’ll use them to set you free from the expectations and opinions of others.

     The Bible says it like this: “You let captors set foot on our neck; then we went through fire and water and you led us out to freedom” (Psalm 66:12 NAB).

     God wants you to be free.  The Bible says the truth will set you free.  But truth often comes with a high cost.

     Four years ago my youngest son died.  You might have heard the story.  He had struggled with mental health his entire life.  He had a troubled mind but a tender heart.

     The day he took his life was the worst day of my life.  I’ll never forget it.

     But to make matters worse, Satan tried to take advantage of it.  Critics came out in full force, saying horrible things about my family.  You’d see them on TV, in magazines, and on blogs.  They celebrated and laughed at his death.  It was brutal, public, and constant.  I thought I was going through Hell itself.

     But God walked with me every step of the way.  During this time, someone asked me how I was doing and I responded, “Honestly, I feel fearless.”

     I wasn’t afraid.  All I kept thinking was, “Satan, is that all you can throw at me?  Are those critics the best you have?”

     I’m not afraid of anything anymore.  I’m living for an audience of one.  Sometimes God uses tough times to wean you off an addiction to other people’s approval.  You just don’t need it to be happy.

—————————————–

     God tests us with success.

     Does that sound strange?  You might have an easier time believing that God tests you with stress or suffering.  But think about it.

     You’ve seen success ruin people.  The young rock star gets everything she has ever wanted and then crashes and burns.  The athlete signs a big contract and then parties away his future.  A business grows bigger than anyone expected, and the owner becomes reckless with expansion plans.  We’ve read the stories.

     As a pastor for more than 40 years, I can tell you that more people have been ruined by success than by suffering.  Suffering tends to push people toward God.  But when people are successful, they often forget about God.

     For every person who can handle pain, you’ll find very few who can handle fame.  The praise goes to their head, and it destroys them.

     The Bible tells us in Proverbs 27:21, “Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but a person is tested by being praised” (NLT).

     In reality, every compliment is a test.  Compliments and criticisms are a bit like chewing gum.  You can chew on them awhile, but don’t swallow them.  Both of them can really mess you up.

     It’s so easy to forget God when success comes your way.  But if you remember that your success comes from God, you will pass the success test every time.

***********************************************

 Heavenly Father, remember your tender mercies and fill my heart with your grace.  How can I bear this life of misery unless you strengthen me with your mercy and grace?  Do not turn your face from me.  Do not withdraw your consolation, lest my soul become as desert land.  Teach me, Lord, to do your will.  Teach me to live worthily and humbly in your sight, you who knew me even before the world was made.   Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis

1658) Harvey and David

By Tony Reinke, at http://www.desiringGod.org, posted October 24, 2017.

—————————–

HARVEY

Image result for harvey weinstein images

     Actress Emma Thompson, 58, recently spoke out about movie producer, and alleged woman-hunting predator, Harvey Weinstein, saying he is just the tip of the iceberg of a Hollywood epidemic.  Men abusing their power to force sexual advances on less-powerful females is, she says, our cultural “crisis of masculinity.”

     How many other vultures prowl the hotels of Hollywood?

     “Many,” said Thompson.  “Maybe not to that degree.  Do they have to all be as bad as him to make it count?  Does it only count if you really have done it to loads and loads of women?  Or does it count to do it to one woman once?

     “This is a part of our world — a woman’s world — since time immemorial.”

     The flood of recent news leaves us with questions.  Will the Weinstein scandal soon explode into a Catholic-Church-level scandal for Hollywood?  How far will the reverberations sound?  How many powerful Hollywood elites will be exposed and implicated?  And how did Weinstein, long scolded for his unwanted sexual advances, find a celebrated home in liberal politics for this long?

     What the last year has made clear is that sinful men with influence and authority often take advantage of women who lack it — and it’s a problem for the most powerful elites on the right, and, a problem for the most powerful elites on the left.  It is a crisis of masculinity for all.

     And, as Thompson said, it has been around since time immemorial.

DAVID

Related image

   The story of a high-power movie producer inviting an aspiring actress to his hotel room, at some point stepping into the bathroom, emerging in a robe, asking for a massage (or worse), should make us uncomfortable.  But the storyline is not new.

     In its most infamous version, we read of the predation of King David and his misuse of his authority, and his abuse of a woman (II Samuel 11:1-12:23).

     Standing on his rooftop perch, looking down over the city under his control, David beheld a bathing woman…    David turns this very private moment into a moment for lustful curiosity and a fantasy leading to his own self-gratification…

     It’s the kind of story that should make us all very uncomfortable.

     We know where the shameful story heads next — from the lustful sight, to an abuse of his kingly authority to call her to his palace, then his bed, and then all the fallout: the pregnancy, the murder of her husband, the death of the resulting child, and the family turmoil that would haunt David’s own house as a result — one sin compounded by the next sin compounded by the next sin, all leading to a cascade of consequences.

SIN

   What makes this entire tragedy more vivid are the detailed accounts we are given of David’s brokenness and repentance after he was “outed” for his evil.  The prophet Nathan opens David’s eyes to see himself as the selfish thief of an unlawful pleasure (II Samuel 12:1-15).  The moment is as greedy and invasive as can be imagined, the prototypical sin of a man that echoes in the Weinsteins of Hollywood and the conservative talkshow hosts of New York City.

      On top of it all, we get a full Psalm (51) from David debriefing his confession on his face before the God he has wronged.  There David confesses that his sin is “ever before me.”  He has sinned against a woman, sinned against her husband, sinned against his army, and sinned against his kingdom.  And yet, all that is far and away surpassed by his offense against God.  David confesses in prayer, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4)…

     David was blinded by his lust from seeing this woman as a God-honoring woman.  His failure of masculinity (in fact, his failure as ruler) was in failing to protect her obedience to God.  And this is at the heart of our crisis of masculinity today: men whose self-centeredness cannot appreciate the holy beauty of a woman’s act of obedience to God’s call over her life.  Whether it is an actress God has called and gifted to act, or a female gifted by God to sing and perform on stage, or a woman working under the authority of a powerful male boss, every woman must be protected for her obedience to God’s design for her life.

     Whether it’s Roman Catholic priests, powerful television hosts, Hollywood directors, male authorities in female gymnastics, or any other positions of male power, there remains a crisis of masculinity — a crisis of knowing that true masculinity is self-giving for the sake of the benefit and flourishing of others.

     We are called to teach our boys that the girls in their schools are living their lives before God, and likely called to be wives of other men.  We are to keep telling married men that your wife is not your possession, but God’s, to be protected and guarded as she fulfills her faithful obedience to her God.

     This crisis of masculinity is an old tale — an old tragedy — since time immemorial.  It plagues the left and the right.  And all men would be hopelessly caught in this sin, had it not been for another King, one greater than David, who could meet a vulnerable woman at a remote well, not to take advantage of her, but to give her eternal joy (John 4).

   In him we can still hope for the resurgence of the glorious masculinity God intended — men not bent on taking, but giving.  Men not fixed on self-gratification, but ready to sacrifice self for her good.

*************************************************

II Samuel 11:2-4a  —   One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.  From the roof he saw a woman bathing.  The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.  The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”  Then David sent messengers to get her.  She came to him, and he slept with her.

II Samuel 12:9a  —  (Nathan said), “Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes?”

Psalm 51:1-4a…10  —  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

*************************************************

A PRAYER BY MARTIN LUTHER ON THE COMMANDMENT “THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY”:

 Dear God, in this commandment you teach and command me to be pure, orderly, and respectful in all my thoughts, words, and deeds.  You forbid me to disgrace any other man’s wife or daughter, certainly not by any wicked deed, but also not by any idle talk that would rob them of their decency and degrade me.  Rather, I should do what I can to help them maintain their honor and respect, just as I would hope they would do for my family.  For we are responsible for each other– we should not do anything that would bring our neighbor’s family into reproach, but should do what we can to preserve their honor and goodness.  Amen.

1657) Unforgettable Photograph

Image result for kim phuc images

Kim Phuc (1963- ) is best known as the girl in the Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a Vietnam War napalm-bombing attack near Saigon.  She now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children (in 2008).  Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids children who are war victims.

Image result for kim phuc images

South Vietnamese forces follow terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc (center) as they run down a road near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. 

Related image

—————————-

“The Long Road to Forgiveness” by Kim Phuc, with Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Co., June 30, 2008.

     On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam; I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down.  I saw fire everywhere around me.  Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm.  My clothes had been burned off by fire.

     I was 9 years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way.  My picture was taken in that moment on Road No. 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh.  After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.

     Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations.

     It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital.  Our house was destroyed; we lost everything and we just survived day by day.

     Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor.  But my studies were cut short by the local government.  They wanted me as a symbol of the state.  I could not go to school anymore.

     The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain.  I hated my life.  I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal.  I really wanted to die many times.

     I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life.  One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

     In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.  It was an amazing turning point in my life.  God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons.  It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy.  But I finally got it.

     Forgiveness made me free from hatred.  I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

     Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful.  We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.

——————-

Kim still suffers daily from excruciating pain but she now finds purpose in that pain, saying, “The pain reminds me daily to go back to the Lord in prayer.  Then he gives me peace, energy, strength and grace to face each day… The pain is for my spiritual protection and I thank God for it.”
 
Kim says she wants to change the way people see her; no longer the little girl crying out of pain, but now as a woman crying out for peace.  She adds, “Now God uses my picture and my everyday life to glorify Him.  Now I understand the purpose of why I’m still here and why I suffer.  It is to glorify the Lord.  It’s not about me.  It’s about Him!”

*************************************

Matthew 18:20-22  —  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32  —  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Proverbs 17:9  —  The one who forgives an offense seeks love, but whoever repeats a matter separates close friends.

*************************************

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  –Jesus

1656) Teaching Kids About Love

Related image

Here is another great family story by Joshua Rogers from his blog, “Finding God in the Ordinary.”  This piece was orginally published at Fox News Opinion, and was posted October 21, 2017 athttp://www.joshuarogers.com

———————–

     The day my oldest daughter was born, I held her in my arms in the hospital and made two promises:  “First, I promise I will never leave your mother; and second, I’ll show up.  I’ll do everything I can to be at your recitals and ball games and dinner around the table.”

     My baby laid there in my arms blinking, breathing, oblivious to the magnitude of the words I was saying.

     My promises seemed so valiant when I made them at the hospital.  But when I got home, I realized my daughter was going to need my wife and me to do a lot more than just stay married and love each other.  She needed to see a regular demonstration of our love.  That was not our strong suit.

     While we loved each other deeply, we were in a constant battle for control and both of us were losing as we bickered and bickered.  Having a baby in the house made us more self-conscious about what we sounded like – especially to the ears of a little one.  We made an unspoken agreement to change.

     I’d like to say we immediately abandoned our old habits and learned how to disagree without being disagreeable.  That, however, would not be true.  We still struggled, but at least we were finally making an effort to resist our dysfunctional patterns of behavior.

     Over the years we made a lot of progress, which was largely due to confessing our struggles with Christian friends and praying things like “Father, please show me how I need to change.”

     God responded, showing us unflattering things about our character that we didn’t want to see.  It was humbling and made us less likely to assume we were always right when there was a conflict.  It also had an unexpected benefit:  We became more affectionate to each other.

      I don’t mean to say we weren’t affectionate before – we never lost the spark of infatuation that attracted us to each other in the first place.  But as we grew in humility towards each other, we were more likely to gently touch each other in the car or say encouraging things to each other in the everyday ho-hum.  We had no idea the impact it was having on the other members of our household.

     One day, we were all listening to a playlist of Disney songs when the sentimental love song “I See The Light” from “Tangled” came on.  I walked over to my wife, who was in the kitchen, took her in my arms, and started dancing with her slowly.  I could tell it caught her off-guard and embarrassed her a little – it came out of nowhere.  Thank goodness she stayed in my arms and danced with me anyway.

     As the song approached the final chorus, I looked in my peripheral vision and suddenly realized we weren’t alone.  Our daughters, who were five and seven, were standing there watching us in silence.

     The song approached the end, and as the strings played the last notes, I decided to give the girls a Hollywood ending.  I took my wife’s face in my hands and kissed her.  After I pulled away, I looked over and saw my oldest daughter’s face lit up with adoration, and her eyes filled with tears.  Then she came over, buried her face in my wife’s legs, and cried.

     “Why are you crying?” my wife asked.

     “I can’t explain it.”

     “Can you at least give me one word to describe how you’re feeling?” I asked.

     My daughter paused, looked up at us and said, “Loved.”

     That one word – “loved”— took my breath away.  Like so many others, I work hard to be a good parent and spouse, but I typically see those roles as having separate tasks and separate functions.  My daughter helped me see that there’s far more overlap for children than we realize.

     Parents are the first two people who get the opportunity to teach children what love looks like, and our kids are counting on us to prove that love is real.

     Children want to see their imperfect, dysfunctional parents dance in the kitchen, say “I love you,” pray together, kiss as they say goodbye, and speak highly of each other.  Those moments of affection provide assurance to our kids – the world isn’t all bad.  Things are going to be OK at home.

     Demonstrating marital love to our children is a privilege, a unique opportunity to be both a good parent and a good spouse.  To love each other well is to love our children well.

********************************************

Ephesians 5:25  —   Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Ephesians 5:1-2a  —  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love.

Philippians 4:8-9  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable— if anything is excellent or praiseworthy— think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.

********************************************

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)

1655) Willing to Bleed

House church in Samar, Philippines

Mission Work in the Philippines

—————-

Today’s meditation is another story from Standing Strong Through The Storm, a daily devotional message by Paul Estabrooks for Open Doors International.

————————————-

     She stood outside the doorway of the church intrigued by the love and joy displayed by those inside.  The missionary had asked her to come in, but she had politely declined.  This was a hostile area in the Philippines, and her father had strictly forbidden her to have anything to do with “those Christians.”

     Unknown to the little Filipino girl, the missionary was praying fervently for her soul.  Finally one Sunday morning, the little girl accepted the invitation to attend the Sunday school class.  There she also opened her heart to Jesus and became a child of God.  The missionary presented her with a beautiful white dress, representing the fact that Jesus had washed all her sins away.

     The next Sunday the little girl was nowhere to be found.  Concerned for the girl, the missionary travelled to her home village.  Arriving at her home, she found the young, new believer lying in the dirt.  Her white dress was torn, filthy, and soaked in blood.  The girl’s father hadn’t shared the missionary’s joy in his daughter’s new-found faith.  In a drunken rage he had beaten her, repeatedly kicked her, and left her to die.

     The missionary gently lifted the fragile girl and carried her back to the church where a doctor rushed to help.  But there was nothing he could do.  He removed the ragged dress and cleaned her up, but her injuries were too severe.  The missionary stayed with her, trying to comfort her during her final hour.

     Upon regaining consciousness the little girl made an unusual request.  She insisted on holding in her hand the white dress the missionary had given her.  They explained that it was torn and soaked with blood and dirt.  With the simple faith of a child she whispered, “I just want Jesus to know that I was willing to bleed for Him.”

——————

This is how the church of Jesus Christ has grown from age to age.  

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  —  Tertullian, early Christian theologian  (155-240)

*******************************************

I Peter 5:19-23  —  It is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.  But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it?  But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to Him who judges justly.

I Peter 5:8b-11  —  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith,because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 2:10  —  Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.  I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.  Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.

*******************************************

I have suffered much;
    preserve my life, Lord, according to your word.

–Psalm 119:107