1784) Sermon on Worship (part two of three)

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     (…continued)  And then, as in all good communication, we respond in worship, speaking back to God.  We pray to God, we sing hymns to God, and we confess our sins to God.  And, even as we speak to God in the different parts of the service, we do so in words from the Bible, responding in ways God’s people have spoken to God for thousands of years.  We use words from I John as we confess our sins.  In the Kyrie, we pray the prayer of the tax collector in Like 18:13 when we pray simply, “Lord, have mercy.”  The hymn of praise begins with the words sung by the angels on the night Jesus was born, and in the ‘Alleluia’ we ask in the words of Peter, ‘Where else shall go, Lord, you have the words of eternal life.’  I begin each sermon with a prayer, and end each sermon with a blessing, both also from the Bible.  After the offering we sing some words written by David in Psalm 51, and we then pray the prayer taught to us by Jesus himself in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  We also sing songs written by others, and pray prayers written by others, or from our own heart.  In all these ways, we carry on our end of this conversation with God.

     Worship is communication.  It is our ongoing conversation with God.  Yes, we should pray our own prayers at home, and yes, we should read the Bible on our own.  But for thousands of years, this time of worshiping together has been the primary place for this ongoing conversation between God and His people.

     When you think about it, our conversation with God that goes on during this hour is, in some ways, similar to our conversations with each other.  Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.  Our daily conversations begin with a greeting, perhaps a ‘hello’ or a ‘how are you?’  Worship also begins with a greeting.  I say, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all;” and you say, “And also with you.”  In our conversations with each other, we are always eager to share good news.  The word ‘Gospel,’ which is at center of worship, comes from an old English word which means ‘good news.’  And that is just what the angel told the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth: “I have come to bring you good news of a great joy for all people; a Savior has been born.”  At the heart of the conversation with God that is worship is the sharing of this Good News.  To give another example, in any close relationship there will be times when we wrong each other, and then, if the relationship is to survive, somebody has to say ‘I’m sorry’ and somebody else has to say ‘You are forgiven.’  In church we call that ‘The Order for Confession and Forgiveness,’ and we need to have the same conversation with God each and every week.  It is how we begin our worship.  Sometimes in our conversations we will ask each other for help.  In worship, it is in our prayers we ask for God’s help.  Then, in our offerings, we make a return of what God has already given us as we offer to help with God’s work here in the congregation and around the world.  In our conversations, we will at times thank one another, so in worship we will certainly want to thank and praise God for all he has done for us.  We do that in the hymns, the Psalms, and in the prayers.  Worship ends with a Benediction, just like our conversations.  Our farewell word ‘good-bye’ is in fact a shortened form of a benediction, “God be with ye.”  Over time, ‘God be with ye’ became simply ‘goodbye.’  I could go on, but you are probably getting the idea.

     With that in mind, think again about what I said at the beginning about how relationships die from lack of communication.  Much has been said about whether or not one can be a Christian without going to church.  The short answer is yes, of course, you can be a Christian without going to church.  I’ve seen some wonderful Christians who did not ever go to church.  We are not saved because we go to church, we are saved because Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and has promised that all who believe in him shall be saved.  John 3: 16 does not say one word about going to church, and yet the whole Gospel is right there: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whosever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  See?  Not a word about church.

     But there is in John 3:16 that word about believing; and believing implies some sort of relationship, some sort of connection, and some sort of response.  God’s love is freely given, but it is not forced on one who will not have it.  The danger of no worship is the same danger as in any relationship in which there is no conversation.  Eventually, the relationship will die, and there are some warnings in the Bible about not letting that happen.  When people insist on paying no attention to God they, in time, come to not care at all about God or His promises.  And then, faith and belief are gone, and the John 3:16 promise can be lost for all eternity.  (continued…)

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1783) Sermon on Worship (part one of three)

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     My wife and I were visiting some old friends a while back.  We had a nice time laughing, joking and reminiscing.  On the way home, my wife said, “Karen told me that her and Bill have not spoken to each other for six weeks; not since they had a big fight after their son’s graduation.”  I couldn’t believe it.  I said, “What do you mean?  We just had a great time with them.  Everything seemed fine.”  She replied, “Karen said they are able to put on a show like that whenever they are around other people; but at home, not one word.”

     I was shocked, and then saddened, and then, very worried for them.  How long can a marriage last when there is no communication? Would we ever get together with them as couples again?

     In a marriage or in any other kind of relationship, what do you think is the most effective way to show contempt for the other person?  Words spoken in anger can be very bad, and much regretted later, but that is not the worst one can do.  Sarcasm will not get you very far, but that also is not the worst.  Making fun of another person is also not very nice, but one can do worse even than that.  One of the worst ways one can treat another person, or we might say, the best way to show contempt, is to ignore them, to treat them as if they are not even there; to not hear what they say, to not respond, and to not speak to them at all.  This is, in effect, to treat them as if they were dead– and it can’t get much worse than that.  In its milder forms, this has been called the ‘silent treatment,’ and we’ve all maybe done that a time or two– briefly.  And, it can even be a good idea to remain silent for a while when everyone needs to cool down a bit.  But when that goes on for six weeks, it is a sign of big trouble.  The Bible doesn’t say ‘don’t ever get mad,’ but it does say, ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’  A relationship will die if there is no communication, whether that is due to anger, or perhaps just lack of interest.

     That also goes for our relationship with God.  God has chosen to create us, and, to communicate with us.  God has given us the opportunity to communicate with him, and He has invited us to do so anytime.  We should not neglect so great a privilege.  We should not ignore God.  We should not, by our silence or by our refusal to listen or respond, show contempt for God.

     But how does one talk to God?  Has anyone here ever see God?  Probably not.  Has anyone here ever said anything to God?  Probably so.  We’ve all prayed.  But has anyone here ever heard God talk back in an audible voice?  Probably not.

     God does not very often speak to anyone that way.  He has spoken like that, says the Bible.  But even the Bible says He doesn’t do that very often.  So what do we do?

     Every Sunday we gather here for worship at 8:00, 9:15, and 10:45.  The service is all planned out ahead of time and printed in the bulletin for you to follow.  It is not very much like a casual conversation where you just sit down and start talking about whatever comes up.

     But actually, worship is like a conversation.  It is one of the most important ways that we communicate with God.  Worship is in fact, at its most basic level, a conversation with God.  During this hour God speaks to us in a variety of ways, and we respond to God in a variety of ways.  This communication is not exactly the same as our conversations with each other after the service; but it is communication.

     God has spoken directly to a few people over the years.  He has even appeared to a few in various forms.  And, God was here on this earth, in person, as Jesus Christ for 33 years.  God has, in these ways, spoken to this world in visible and audible ways.  We may not have seen or heard him ourselves, but we have, in our Bibles, an account of what he had to say.  The Bible is the primary way that God communicates with us now.  It is God’s Word to us.  Some folks read it every day, and some folks don’t read it at all.  But when we worship together, our service is filled with God’s Word.

     Our order of service in the bulletin (our  Lutheran liturgy) makes sure that when you come to church you will hear God’s Word.  As a preacher, I take comfort in that, because there are weeks that I can’t come up with anything for the sermon I am very satisfied with.  Still, it is my job to get up here in the pulpit every Sunday morning and start in.  And I know very well that not every sermon speaks to every person every Sunday.  But the value of this worship hour doesn’t all depend on me and my sermon.  The service itself is filled with God’s Word to you. 

     At the very beginning, after we confess our sins, I announce to you God’s word of forgiveness, as Jesus Christ himself in John 20 authorized me to do.  In the greeting we receive a Biblical blessing from II Corinthians; and in the closing benediction, we receive the words of blessing from the Old Testament book of Numbers.  In the Scripture readings we hear three or four sections of the Bible read to us, or, as in the Psalm, read responsively by all of us.  And in the sermon I try to bring a message based on God’s Word and applied to our lives today.  We hear God speak to us in the worship service each week.

     And then, as in all good communication, we respond.  (continued…)

1782) Dead, Yet Not Dead

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“Some day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it.  At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.  I will have gone up higher, that’s all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, eternal in the heavens; a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint.  I was born  of the flesh in 1837.  I was born of the spirit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die.  That which is born of the spirit will live forever.”

–Dwight L. Moody, the greatest evangelist of the 19th century  (1837-1899)

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A young Benjamin Franklin wrote this little verse in 1728 to serve as his epitaph.  Franklin made copies of this verse for friends at various times in his life.  This plaque appears on a wall near Franklin’s grave.

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     “Good morning, and how is John Quincy Adams today?” asked an old friend as he shook the former president’s trembling hand.

     The retired chief executive looked at him for a moment and then replied, “John Quincy Adams is quite well, sir, quite well.  But the house in which he lives at the present is becoming dilapidated.  It is tottering upon its foundation.  Time and the seasons have almost destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are much shattered and it crumbles a little bit with every wind.  The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy will have to move out of it soon.  But he himself is quite well, sir, quite well.”

     It was not long after that he suffered his second and fatal stroke.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848)

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John 11:25-26  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

John 14:18-19  —  (Jesus said), “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (Contemporary English Version)  —  Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth.  But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live.  These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.  While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home.  We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.  These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan.  But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die.  It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die.  God is the one who makes all of this possible.  He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.  So always be cheerful!  As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord.  But we live by faith, not by what we see.  We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.  But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.

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May the Lord, by His grace, bend, direct, and govern our hearts so that we sometime, with gladness, may assemble with God in the eternal mansions, where there will be no more partings, no more sorrows, no more trials, but everlasting joy and gladness, and contentment in beholding God’s face.  Amen.

–Minnesota immigrant Guri Olsdatter Endreson, in a letter to relatives in Norway in 1866, informing them that her husband Lars and oldest son Endre were killed by Dakota Souix in the 1862 Dakota-U.S. War (Minneapolis Star Tribune, February 11, 2018, page B4).

Norwegian emigre Guri Endreson, above, downplayed her heroism in escaping from her home, below, during an attack, and saving two men during the U.S-Dakota War of 1862.

Guri Olsdatter Endreson  (1823-?)

1781) Iranian Refugee to Swedish Pastor (part two of two)

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Annahita Parsan (left) has converted hundreds of Muslims in Europe to Christianity.

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By Annahita Parsan, “Testimony,” posted February 20, 2018, at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com

Annahita Parsan is an ordained minister in the Church of Sweden. She is the author of Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus (Thomas Nelson).

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   (…continued)  Today, at my church in Sweden, I have the privilege of seeing God powerfully at work in the lives of so many Muslims.  All over the world, God is appearing in dreams and visions to men and women who have previously followed Allah.

     But God continues to work at a slower pace as well.  Two summers ago, as the news brought constant stories of refugees climbing on boats and hoping to make it to Greece, I was asked to pray with a man who had walked into my church.

     His name was Fiaz, and he told me about the night that he, his wife, and two daughters stood on the shore in Turkey and watched the boats approach.  The flashlights were weak, and the waves crashing on the rocks were strong.  He scooped up his little girls and called to his wife to follow.

     Only when they had pushed away from the shore did Fiaz discover that his wife had not made it on board.  There were other boats, he told himself.  She could have gotten on one of them.  When they landed he searched frantically, up and down the coast.

     It took nine months for Fiaz to discover the truth.  His wife had fallen down in the push to climb on board.  She had drowned right there, just a few feet away.  She was 23.

     “Only God can heal you,” I said, as Fiaz and I stood before the cross.  “Open up your heart to him.”  He let out a cry so raw, so loud, and so full of the deepest, darkest pain.  It was like my own cry in the mountains—a raging against evil.

     The next week, Fiaz and his daughters moved in with a family from church.  There will be no quick fixes and no simple solutions.  But God will be with them, guiding them, leading and loving them.  He will call them back to him again and again.  All they have to do is say yes.

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I Peter 5:10  —  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.

Isaiah 43:1  —  The Lord who created you says, “Do not be afraid.  I will save you.  I have called you by name—you are mine.”

Acts 1:8  —  This is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends ofthe earth.”

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PSALM 31:1-2…5…9-10…14-16…:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.

Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me…

Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God…

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eyes grow weak with sorrow,
    my soul and body with grief.
My life is consumed by anguish
    and my years by groaning;
my strength fails because of my affliction,
    and my bones grow weak…

But I trust in you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”

My times are in your hands;
    deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
    from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your unfailing love…

Be strong and take heart,
    all you who hope in the Lord.

1780) Iranian Refugee to Swedish Pastor (part one of two)

An Iranian Refugee’s Terrible Journey to God

“I survived snowy mountains, a filthy prison, and an abusive husband.  Then I discovered who had protected me all along.”

By Annahita Parsan, “Testimony,” posted February 20, 2018, at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com

Annahita Parsan is an ordained minister in the Church of Sweden. She is the author of Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus (Thomas Nelson).

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     When Arif marched up to me in church, it was obvious that he was angry.  With his eyes narrowed in hate and his long beard trembling with rage, he was incensed that I, a Christian woman, would be trying to convert Muslims.  Within seconds Arif was flat on his back as if God had acted supernaturally to get his attention.  (This is not an uncommon experience when I witness to Muslims.)  It didn’t take long for Arif to break down and start crying, and once he’d opened up his heart to God like that, it was only a matter of time before he turned his back on Islam and gave his life to Jesus.  All I had to do was stand to the side and pray.

     But not everyone meets God this way.  For some, the journey to seeing Jesus as Savior is sudden and dramatic like it was on the road to Damascus.  But for others, the journey to faith looks more like the road to Emmaus: a gradual realization that Jesus is closer than the air we breathe.

     I know, because that’s exactly how it was with me.

     I was born in Iran—beautiful, peaceful Iran.  My life was good, and it got even better when I fell in love, got married, and gave birth to my son, Daniel.  I was 18 years old with a husband who loved me and a newborn baby we both adored.  Even the fact that my country was being overtaken by Islamic revolutionaries couldn’t dampen my joy.  Like so many people whose lives feel perfect, I had little appetite for God.  But all that was about to change.

     Death came like a thief one morning soon after Daniel was born.  My husband was killed in a traffic accident, and in an instant my life was robbed of joy.  I was in shock.  I was in denial.  And for the first time in my life, my mind turned to God.  I asked, What have I done to deserve this?

     In time the pain dulled a little, and I devoted myself to Daniel.  I remarried, but from the first night we were together, my new husband revealed himself to be a violent, abusive man.  My life was once more plunged into pain and sorrow.  Only this time, there was no end in sight.

     I gave birth to a daughter, Roksana, but my husband’s beatings continued.  And when he got in trouble with the authorities, I had no choice but to join him as he fled across the mountains into Turkey.

     It was a terrible journey.  We weren’t equipped for the snow, and soon my fingers, mouth, and toes were black with frostbite.  And when I realized that Roksana was no longer breathing, my thoughts once more returned to God.  Why are you punishing me this way?

     Crouched on the cold ground, my baby’s tiny body hanging limply in my arms, I was at my lowest point.  I had nothing left with which to fight.  I wanted to die.  I had no idea that God was right there with me.

     Hours later, as we sat by a fire in the custody of Turkish police, I got my first real glimpse of God.  Roksana was alive.  It was a miracle.  Throughout the next four months that we spent locked up in a filthy Turkish prison, God was right there.  He kept me safe from many dangers, and I know he was there too in the kindness of a stranger: a businessman, once imprisoned alongside us, who helped secure our release through Amnesty International.

     But it wasn’t until I was far away from Turkey that God started to reveal himself more clearly.  One day two men knocked on my apartment door.  They wanted to talk about Jesus, but I was too scared of my husband to talk to strangers.  They returned the next day and handed me a Bible.  I knew I should have thrown it away, but something made me want to keep it.  So I hid it where my husband couldn’t find it.  The next time he beat me until my body was bruised and sore, something compelled me to give the Bible a look.  It was a strange thing for a Muslim like me to do, but I felt better somehow.  It spoke to me, and I started to speak to God.  If you really are there, God, please help.

     Eventually, with the help of the police, I was able to leave my husband.  My children and I were relocated to another city and offered emergency shelter by nuns.  As I listened to them talk and sing about loving and following Jesus, something awakened within me.  Could I ever learn to love and trust you too, Jesus?

     Years passed before I had an answer.  I was back in Iran, having returned to visit a dying relative.  I tried to keep away from trouble, but I fell afoul of the regime.  The authorities were suspicious as to why I had left Iran in the first place, and I knew I couldn’t tell the truth about my escape without facing a return to prison.  After three months of court hearings and interviews, I stood before a judge, waiting to hear his verdict.  Powerless and desperate, I turned fully to the one who had been beside me throughout it all.  I promised God I would give my life to Christ if he could deliver me from this ordeal.

     Right then, as I prayed, he freed me from the enemy’s grip.  The judge, who saw that I was crying, had mercy on me and let me go free.  The very next day, I was back in Sweden—God had rescued me and brought me safely home.  From that day on, my life has been his.  (continued…)

1779) America’s Pastor Goes Home

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William Franklin Graham, Jr.  (November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018)

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By John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris, http://www.breakpoint.org, February 22. 2018.

     Here’s a story that could be repeated by any one of a million Americans:

     “At age 45 I attended a Billy Graham Crusade in New York City and responded to the call.  A man took me aside to counsel me after I went forward and I really felt Christ was in that conversation.

     “I knew it was all different from that point on,” this man continued.  “I was going to church before then but I didn’t have the personal relationship.”

     That testimony belongs to Tom Phillips, the man who, several years later led Chuck Colson to Christ.  At the Colson Center, Graham’s passing represents more than just the end of an era.  It’s something like the loss of a grandfather.

     Rev. Graham ministered to every U.S. president since Harry Truman.  He was instrumental in the Civil Rights movement, even posting bail for Martin Luther King, Jr. and personally removing the barrier between the white and black sections at his crusades.  And he appeared on Gallup’s list of most admired men and women more often than anyone else in the world.

     His sixty-seven years of evangelism, not only in tents, churches, and stadiums but also through innovative use of new media and technologies, would deliver a simple Gospel message to more people than any other Protestant minister in history: an estimated 2.2 billion.

     In response, millions surrendered their lives to Christ to the contrite strains of “Just as I Am.”

     Chuck Colson first met the Reverend Graham in Nixon’s White House.  In a 2006 tribute, he recalled the minister’s pastoral care and concern for the President and his staff.  Chuck also felt a debt of gratitude to Graham for offering counsel and support when he was released from prison, and he credited Graham as a mentor who shaped his ministry from the beginning, and even joined him in the prisons to share the Gospel.

     Chuck recalled seeing Rev. Graham, the celebrity evangelist to millions, sitting cross-legged on the floor in a maximum security prison sharing Christ’s love with a single prisoner.  Chuck later wrote, “He was as comfortable in that prison as he was in a palace.”

     But still, what strikes me in all of this, is just how unlikely this story is.  Some of Graham’s success can be attributed to extraordinary talent, oratorical skills, his strong team, and other things.  But it can’t explain how this self-described “farm boy” would become—well—Billy Graham.

     Timing is part of the story: God called Graham to ministry at an extraordinary time in American church history.  After the Scopes trial of 1925, American evangelicalism had largely retreated from public life—perceived by a hostile public to be nothing but backwoods fundamentalism.

     But then arose four faces of an evangelical resurgence: Fuller Seminary, Christianity Today Magazine, the National Association of Evangelicals, and most important of all, Billy Graham, who leapt onto the national stage in the unlikeliest of ways: a 1949 evangelistic crusade in, of all places, Los Angeles.

     So what was it?  His “golden” voice?  His calm demeanor?  His ability to connect with the powerful?  His humility?  His innovative use of new technologies?  His impeccable integrity?  All of these things certainly contributed to his life and influence.  But his answer, when he was asked by CNN’s Larry King in 2005: “It’s the message…”

     God raised Billy Graham up at a specific time and specific place to exalt Jesus.  And that’s exactly what he did.  This Christian hero came to Jesus “just as he was,” and he dedicated his entire life to telling others that, really, that’s the only way for any of us to come to Jesus: “Without one plea, but that His blood was shed for me.”

     Thank you God, for Billy Graham.  And thank you, Reverend Graham.  We’ll miss you.

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Classic Billy Graham Gospel presentation and altar call as choir sings Just As I Am:

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Acts 16:31  —  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.

Matthew 25:21a  —  (Jesus said), “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’”

John 14:1-6  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

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JUST AS I AM  by Charlotte Elliot, 1835

Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though toss’d about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need, in Thee to find,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
-O Lamb of God, I come!

1778) “Somebody Has to Do the Work”

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Pearl Buck (1892-1973) at home in Zhenxiang, China as a child (on left)

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From The Exile, by Pearl S. Buck, 1936; as quoted in Stories of Faith, by Ruith Tucker, 1989.

     Spending time in prayer each day is a discipline that is often difficult to maintain, and missionaries sometimes struggle more with time pressures than do Christians who are not involved in full-time ministry.  Carrie Sydenstricker found this to be true during her years in China.  She was a busy mother who prayed swiftly, and could have identified with the prayer of the psalmist, “When I call, answer me quickly.”

     Carrie would have been lost in obscurity as so many other missionary women have been had it not been for her biographer—her illustrious daughter, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Pearl S. Buck.   From the beginning, Carrie had mixed emotions about spending her life and raising her children in China.  She had lost three little ones and feared for her other children.

     Although she faithfully ministered among the Chinese women, Carrie struggled in her own spiritual life.  “Deep down under all the fullness of her life, Carrie still felt at times the inadequacy of her relation to God.  She planned sometimes for a period when she would withdraw and really seek to find what she needed.  She planned to read her Bible more and pray more and try to be ‘good.’”

     Her prayer life is graphically contrasted to her husband’s in a story from Pearl Buck’s own experience.  She asked her mother one morning after breakfast, “What makes the red marks on Father’s forehead?”

     “They are marks from his fingers where he leans his head on his hand to pray,” Carrie answered soberly.  “Your father prays for a whole hour every morning when he gets up.”  Such holiness was awe-inspiring.  The children looked for similar marks on their mother’s forehead, and one asked, ‘Why don’t you pray, too, Mother?’

     “Carrie answered—was it with a trifle of sharpness?—’If I did, who would dress you all and get breakfast and clean house and teach you your lessons?  Some have to work, I suppose, while some pray.’

     “Andrew came out of his habitual abstraction long enough to overhear this, and to remark gently, ‘If you took a little more time for prayer, Carrie, perhaps the work would go better.’

     “To which Carrie replied with considerable obstinacy, ‘There isn’t but so much time, and the Lord will just have to understand that a mother with little children has to condense her prayers.’

     “The truth of it was that Carrie was not very good at long prayers.  She prayed hard and swiftly at times, but she prayed as she worked.”

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Luke 10:40  —  Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

Psalm 102:1-2  —  Hear my prayer, Lordlet my cry for help come to you.  Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress.  Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly.

Philippians 4:6  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

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FOUR QUICK PRAYERS:

Lord, I shall be very busy this day.  I may forget thee but do not thou forget me.
—Sir Jacob Astley (1579-1652)

The things, good Lord, that we pray for,
Give us the grace to labor for.
—Thomas More (1478-1535)

God give me work 
Till my life shall end 
And life 
Till my work is done. 
–An old prayer

Seen on an old gravestone in Germany:  When Thou callest me, Lord Christ, I will arise.  But first let me rest a little, for I am very weary.

1777) “Who’s Being Realistic?”

Image result for clarence jordan images

In 1942 farmer and Baptist minister Clarence Jordan (1912-1969) started Koinonia Farms, an integrated farm cooperative near Americus, Georgia.  Any kind of  integration was a threat to many people in the heavily segregated Deep South of the middle years of the 20th century, and the Ku Klux Klan was an ever present threat to those who lived at Koinonia.  Jordan led a courageous and determined non-violent response to the threat, even refusing the offer of the protection by Federal troops during a particularly dangerous time.  The following story is from Cotton Patch Sermons by Clarence Jordan.

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      A lot of people think that Christians are just fuzzy-minded people living in a world of illusion.  That isn’t true.  Those who have gotten up out of the stupor of sin and put their faith in Jesus are the ones who are living in the world of reality.

     One time about 93 car loads of Ku Klux Klansmen came out to Koinonia and suggested to us that we find a climate a little bit more conducive to our health.  We declined their suggestion, and word got out that I was about to be lynched.  Some very dear friends came to me and suggested that I find refuge north of the Mason-Dixon line.

     I said, “Well, we came here because of the will of God and, if we leave, it will have to be because of the will of God.”

     They said, “Now wait a minute here, you’ve been a preacher too long.  You got to get your head out of those theological clouds and face up to reality.  The Klan is about to lynch you and you might as well face up to it.”

     Well, I hadn’t been sitting there getting shot at and machine-gunned and all like that for three years without being aware of the fact that I was in danger.  But I said to them, “Now what do you mean face up to reality?”

     They said, “Be practical.  It’s all right to discuss theology at the seminary, but you got to face up to the cold stark facts of life.”

     I said to them, “Now listen, I think I’m the one that’s being realistic and you are the ones being unrealistic.  You’re facing up to the demands of the Klan which is temporal and transient.  And I’m facing up to the demands of God who is eternal.  Now who’s being realistic?  I think God was here before the Klan and I think God will be here after the Klan is gone.  And I think God is more real in this universe than the Ku Klux Klan.”

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Luke 12:4-7  —   (Jesus said),  “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.  Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Psalm 27:1-3  —  The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?  When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me even then I will be confident.

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PSALM 3:1-7a… 8a

Lord, how many are my foes!  How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

I call out to the Lordand he answers me from his holy mountain.

I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.

Arise, Lord!  Deliver me, my God!…  From the Lord comes deliverance.

1776) Know When to Be Quiet

ife is fraught wi

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By Jon Bloom, February 16, 2018, at:  http://www.desiringgod.org

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     Christians should be the most careful speakers in the world.  We ought to be characterized by two kinds of trembling when it comes to words: we should tremble at the words God speaks and we should tremble at the words we speak.

     We know we should tremble at God’s word, for he tells us,  “This is the one I will look on with favor: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2)

     But why should we tremble at the words we speak?  Because Jesus said, “I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:36-37)

     “Every careless word.”  That should stop us in our tracks.  It should set us trembling, considering how many words we speak.  And by “speak” I mean every word that comes out of our mouths, our pens, and our keyboards.  We speak thousands of words every day, sometimes tens of thousands.

     When we experience these two kinds of trembling, they occur for the same reason: we love and fear God and don’t want to profane his holy word or to profane his holiness with our unholy words.  Such trembling makes us want to speak carefully and sometimes not speak at all.  Because we believe, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1…7)

     There really is a time to keep silent.  And that time comes more often than most of us are conditioned to think.

     With the advent of social media, nearly everyone now has a broadcast platform from which they can publicly hold forth on any social, cultural, political, economic, or theological issue, any controversy, any scandal, any whatever anytime they wish, regardless of what they know.  And while the democratization of public communication is a remarkable historic phenomenon and certainly has some wonderful benefits, it is a dangerous thing, spiritually speaking.  It’s an immense, cacophonous forum of multiplied, foolish, careless words, for which every participant, whether they know it or not, will give an account to God.

     Christians know that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and “the beginning of knowledge” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7).   We are taught that it is profoundly wise for us to cultivate the discipline of being slow to speak (James 1:19).  Slow to speak implies that there is a time for silence.  Sometimes it means we are silent for some appropriate brief or extended period of time while being quick to hear (listening carefully), so we gain an accurate understanding of an issue before we speak carefully. 

     And sometimes it means we don’t speak at all.

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Proverbs 4:24  —  Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

Proverbs 10:14  —  The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

James 3:3-10  —  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example.  Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.  Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.  All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.  My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

James 1:19  —  My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

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May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  Amen.

Psalm 19:14

1775) “And Yet…”

By Håkan Svensson Xauxa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2621197
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     Pictured above is the Karna Lutheran church in Malmslatt, Sweden.  Like many of the churches in Europe, this church is very old.  The present structure is no doubt the result of several expansions and remodelings of the old church, but the original part of the building is believed to go back over 800 years.  Among the villagers of Malmslatt there are many interesting stories about the beginnings of that church, and, of how it happened to be built on that spot.  The legends have their origin in a very old Swedish poem, the poem itself going back almost eight centuries.  The story is so very old, and there have been so many different legends that have grown up around it, that it is impossible to determine what really happened.  I would guess that, as in many old legends, there is at least of grain of truth in the tragic tale that is told.  It is the story of how one man dealt with his grief and his sin.  In 1959 the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman blended together some of these old legends to make an Academy Award winning movie, The Virgin Spring.  What follows is how Bergman told the story in his film.
 
     Peter Tyrsson was a godly man who led his family in faithful devotion to the church and its Lord.  He had a good wife and a teenage daughter, and, he was wealthy enough to have a few servants to help on his large farm.  One day, Peter and his wife sent their daughter on the half-day journey to the church in Vange, the closest large town, and the only church in the area.  She was to deliver the candles that her parents had bought for the sanctuary, and she was to be home that evening.  On the way, she was met by three wicked herdsmen.  Two of the herdsmen attacked the girl, raped, and then killed her.  The third looked on in horror.  The three then left their herd to escape to another part of the country.  They knew that the fine fabric of the girl’s dress, even though dirty and bloody, could be sold for a good price; so they took it along to sell to some farmer’s wife along the way.  Thinking they were far enough away from the crime, they stopped at the farm of what looked to be a wealthy man to offer the fabric for sale.  Unbeknownst to them, it was the farm of Peter Tyrsson, the father of the murdered girl.  Peter had by this time been informed of his daughter’s death, and he recognized the dress.  Peter was a big, strong man, and in a fit of rage, he killed all three of the herdsman.  He had no way of knowing that one of them was innocent.
 
     Peter got his revenge, but he was a godly man, and the killing of three men weighed heavy on his conscience.  He was deeply grieved over the loss of his daughter; and now, to his grief was added unbearable guilt.  Peter, who never even forgot to say his prayers every day, was now a violent murderer.
 
     Near the end of the movie Peter and his wife travel to the place where they were told his daughter was killed in order to give her a decent burial.  They find her body, and after holding her and crying, Peter got up and walked toward a clearing by a creek, where he collapsed in anguish.  He then spoke to God.  He said:  “You saw it, God.  You saw it all.  You saw the death of my innocent child, and then you saw my vengeance; and yet you allowed it all to happen…  I don’t understand you, God.  I will never understand you…”
 
     “And yet,” Peter went on, “Yet, still I ask for your forgiveness.  I know of no other way to make peace with myself.  I know of no other way to live.  I don’t understand you, God, but I do know how to work with my hands; and so here by the dead body of my only child, I promise that, as penance for my sin, I shall build you a church.  On this spot I shall build it, with mortar and stone and with these very hands.”  And so, the old stories say, the Karna church of Malmslatt, Sweden was built as an act of penance.
 
     We do not know how much of that actually happened, but true or not, the story of the Karna church gives some profound insights into struggles that we all face:  struggles between good and evil, struggles with the desire for vengeance but the need to forgive, struggles with the burden of guilt and the need for grace, and, struggles with the inability to understand the ways of God.   We have all, like Peter Tyrrson, wondered how God can stand by and watch as such terrible accidents, tragedies, crimes, and sufferings go on.   And we have all, like Peter Tyrrson, responded to sin by adding more sin.  And perhaps we have also, even though filled with confusion about God, said like Peter Tyrrson, “What else can I do?  Where else can I go?  To whom can I turn besides Jesus my Lord?”  Even the disciple Peter had to say one time when he was very much confused by Jesus, “Lord, where else should we go?  Only you have the words of eternal life.”
 
     Peter Tyrrson, like the disciple Peter, did not have answers to those impossible questions of faith.  But even without answers to their questions, they both had the right response, which was to continue to cling to the Lord in faith.  The disciple Peter had some huge failures, the most famous being on the night of Jesus’ arrest when in the courtyard of the high priest he denied even knowing Jesus.  But Peter returned to faith in Jesus and continued to obey and follow Jesus, even until he was put to death on a cross just like his Lord Jesus.
 
     Peter Tyrrson was not acting like much of a Christian when he killed three men without even waiting to find out if all three were guilty.  But then even though he was very much confused and was not understanding why God did not do something, he still asked God’s forgiveness.  And then he went to work in a very specific way to serve the Lord that he had so miserably sinned against.  The 800 year old Karna church stands as a testimony to the power of faith over evil.
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Daniel 9:18  —  Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name.  We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.
 
Habakkuk 1:2-3  —  How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
 
John 6:68   —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”
 
Romans 12:19  —  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
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 ‘A Prayer in Darkness,’ by Richard Foster:
O God of wonder and of mystery, teach me by means of your wondrous, terrible, loving, all-embracing silence.  Amen.