1774) “We Will Suffer, If We Must”

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By Rev. William Willimon, Christian Century magazine, March 2, 1983, page 174.

     I sat with them in silence as they awaited the arrival of the pediatrician.  It had been an easy delivery, but all was not well with the newborn.

     The doctor spared few words.  “Your child is afflicted with Down’s Syndrome.  I had expected this, but things were too far along before I could say for sure.”

     “Is the baby healthy?” the young mother asked.

     “That’s what I wanted to discuss with you,” the doctor said.  “The baby is healthy– except for that problem.  However, your baby does have a slight, rather common respiratory ailment.  My advice is that you let me take it off the respirator– that might solve things.  At least it’s a possibility.”

     “It’s not a possibility for us,” they said together.

     “I know how you feel,” responded the doctor.  “But you need to think about what you are doing.  You already have two beautiful kids.  Statistics show that people who keep these babies risk a higher incidence of marital stress and family problems.  Is it fair to do this to the children you already have?  Is it right to bring this suffering into your family?”

     At the mention of ‘suffering’ I saw her face brighten, as if the doctor were finally making sense.

     “Suffering?” she said quietly.  “We appreciate your concern, but we’re Christians.  God suffered for us, and we will suffer for the baby, if we must.”

     “Pastor, I hope you can do something with them,” the doctor whispered to me outside their door as he continued his rounds. 

      Two days later, the doctor and I watched the couple leave the hospital.  They walked slowly, carrying a small bundle; but it seemed a heavy burden to us, a weight on their shoulders.  They went down the front steps of the hospital, moving slowly but deliberately in a cold, gray March morning.

     “It will be too much for them,” the doctor said.  “You ought to have talked them out of it.  You should have helped them to understand.”

     But as they left, I noticed a curious look on their faces; they looked as if the burden were not too heavy at all, as if it were a privilege and a sign.  They seemed borne up, as if on another’s shoulders, being carried toward some high place the doctor and I would not be going, following a way we did not understand.

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I Peter 2:21  —   To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Ephesians 5:1-2  —  Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

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

II Corinthians 1:3-7  — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.  If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.  And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.

I Peter 5:7  —  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Isaiah 40:30-31  —  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

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O Lord, renew our spirits and draw our hearts to yourself, that our service may not be to us a burden but a delight.  Let us not serve you with the spirit of bondage like slaves, but with freedom and gladness, delighting in you and rejoicing in your work, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.  

–Benjamin Jenks

1773) Driven to His Knees

 

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     Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1809-April 15, 1865) remained skeptical, and at times even cynical, about religion until into his forties.  So it is a most striking thing how personal and national suffering drew Lincoln into the reality of God, rather than pushing him away.

     In 1862, when Lincoln was 53 years old, his 11-year-old son Willie died.  Lincoln’s wife tried to deal with her grief by searching out New Age mediums to contact the spirit of her dead son.  Lincoln turned to Phineas Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington.

     Several long talks led to what Gurley described as “a conversion to Christ.”  Lincoln confided that he was “driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.”

     Similarly, the horrors of the dead and wounded soldiers assaulted him daily.  There were fifty hospitals for the wounded in Washington.  The rotunda of the Capitol held 2,000 cots for wounded soldiers.

     Typically, fifty soldiers a day died in these temporary hospitals, which Lincoln often visited.  All of this drove Lincoln deeper into the providence of God, saying,  “We cannot but believe, that He who made the world still governs it.”

     His most famous statement about the providence of God in relation to the Civil War was his Second Inaugural Address, given a month before he was assassinated.  It is remarkable for not making God a simple supporter for the Union or Confederate cause.  He has his own purposes and does not excuse sin on either side.

Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war might speedily pass away . . . .  Yet if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid with another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said, “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.

     I pray for all of you who suffer loss and injury and great sorrow that it will awaken for you, as it did for Lincoln, not empty despair and hopelessness, but a deeper reliance on the infinite wisdom and love of God’s inscrutable providence.    –John Piper

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John 6:67-69  —  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Romans 11:33  —  O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Psalm 19:9b  —  The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

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Help me, O Lord, to make a true use of all disappointments and calamities in this life, in such a way that they may unite my heart more closely with you.  Cause them to separate my affections from worldly things and inspire my soul with more vigor in the pursuit of true happiness.  Amen.

–Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), mother of John and Charles Wesley and 17 other children

1772) How to Wait

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By Jani Ortlund at http://www.desiringgod.org, January 24, 2018

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     I wish someone had told me.

     Looking back now, I wish an older lady had sat me down and told me, “Most of life is waiting, Jani.  Learn to wait in hope, not fear.”

     You see, I grew up believing a lie — a lie I carried with me into adulthood.  I believed that happiness would be mine when my dreams finally came true.  And so I worked hard — really hard — to gather around me all that my heart longed for.

     But then, as I found myself beginning to attain some of my desires, I started fearing I might lose them.  What a hard taskmaster fear was!  It paralyzed me within a web of doubt and self-absorption, and robbed me of my joy.

     I feared the vulnerability of marriage, and I feared the lonesome ache of singleness.  I feared the pressure of success, and I feared the shame of failure.  I feared infertility, and I feared pregnancy.  I feared the responsibility of raising children, and I feared the emptiness of a childless home.  I feared the stress of working outside my home, and I feared the isolation of staying at home full-time.  I feared appearing immature, and I feared growing old.  What didn’t I fear?  Very little.

     I hated being so fearful.  I hated what those fears did to me and those I loved.  I tried to out-reason and out-perform them, which only brought me to the frightening, flashing neon-sign type of realization that finally got my attention, “Jani, you are not in control.  And you never will be.”

     I saw that I feared my circumstances more than I feared God.  I had lost sight of the reality that both trials and triumphs are part of the good story God is writing through me.  I didn’t treasure the truth that he is equally with us in our laughter and our tears, our celebrations and our sufferings.

     Sometimes life seems very bleak and unfairly harsh.  It seems that way, because it is.  We find ourselves waiting for that special man to call for a date, or to finally land that dream job, or for the lab tests to verify our longed-for “all clear.”  And it is hard to keep waiting in hope, because, “What if . . . ?”

     What can calm our fears?  The remedy for fear is not withdrawal, or more self-control, or even drumming up more courage.  The remedy for our fears is hope— hope in a God who is more than a match for anything we fear this side of heaven, a God who promises his very presence to be near and real:

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

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.   (Isaiah 41:10)

     Hold your fears loosely.  Bring them to God and offer them to him with open hands, asking him to replace your fears with hope.  Let go of your fears and hold on to him.  As we leave our fears with him, he will quiet us by his love (Zephaniah 3:17), helping us to ask ourselves, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God”  (Psalm 43:5).

     And what does that hope look like?  It looks as satisfying and secure as God himself, because real hope is a person.  Paul tells us in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”  When we hold on to the God of hope, what we have then is not a psychological uplift, but God himself as our ally for every doubt and danger.

     How do you hold on to God?  Well, you need to get close to him.  You need to get to know him better.  How do you get to know God better?  The same way you get to know anyone: by spending time together.  What helps me most get to know the God of hope is spending time with him — intentionally and consistently coming to meet with him in worship, prayer, and in the pages of the Bible.  Much has changed in the world since Bible times.  But God hasn’t changed.  The God of hope we see on the pages of the Bible is the God we’re meeting with.

     Hope is a choice.  What guides that choice, flavors it, feeds it?  Meditating on the God of hope.  Let’s settle into God’s goodness.  Let’s relish his wise care over every minute detail in his universe.  Let’s hold those demands for our happiness, those dreams we can’t live without, with open hands before our King.  Let’s choose hope.

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O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

–Psalm 39:7

1771) “The Good Times Do Come to an End”

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Duke Ellington  (1899-1974)

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From yesterday’s Ash Wednesday sermon

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     Yesterday was Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, the last day of the Mardi Gras Carnival.  Mardi Gras is several days, even weeks, of increasingly wild partying and celebrating in that city known for its wild partying.  The hooting and hollering, the overindulging, the parades, and the dancing, go on around the clock, until the stroke of midnight at the end of Fat Tuesday.  Then, the parades end, many of the bars close, and police on horseback clear the historic Bourbon Street.  Why?  Because then it is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

     According to ancient Christian tradition, Lent is a holy time in which Christians do not party wildly, but they do repent and draw closer unto God.  And, according to New Orleans tradition, you should go crazy with wild behavior all you can in the days preceding Lent, because that will have to hold you over for the next 6-1/2 long weeks, as you spend that time in faithful fasting and repentance.

     I don’t know how much true Christian faith and feelings have to do with any of that anymore—if it ever did.  And I doubt if all of the Fat Tuesday revelers really take a break from partying in order to observe their religious duties the next 6-1/2 weeks.  But that is the historic background of that New Orleans tradition.

     New Orleans is known not only for Mardi Gras, but the city is also famous for being considered the birth-place of Jazz, that wonderful and uniquely American contribution to the world of music.  Several years ago Ken Burns, that master of American history documentaries, did a mini-series on the history of jazz.  As I watched it, I was struck by how that lively, joyful, exuberant, and really fun music, sprung up out of such a sad and depressing setting, among such an oppressed people.  Jazz began around the end of the 1800’s in the Deep South, among black Americans, some of whom were born slaves, all of whom were still second class citizens.  Yet, the many different cultural influences in New Orleans combined to give rise to Jazz, this new music that would in time lead to Swing, and the Blues, and go on to influence country, and rock, and the whole American and world music scene.  The music played in that mini-series is just terrific; so creative and alive.  And the dancing was incredible, and the lives of the musicians were so interesting.  They had so much fun creating and developing and experimenting with this new music.  There was the joy of creating something so new and different, the pride and pleasure of performance, and the pure enjoyment of singing and dancing and being a part of it all.  The whole mini-series is filled with joy and life.

     Then, plopped right in the middle of the series, is an unexpectedly jarring moment—one of the most profound and thought-provoking segments of the entire mini-series.  Being discussed was one of Duke Ellington’s early hits, a song called “Black and Tan.”  “Black and Tanis a tune that is slow and a bit somber sometimes, but also at times light and breezy, like the blues can be.  But then right at the end Duke Ellington does something really weird.  The song ends with a few bars of Frederic Chopin’s classic Funeral March…

     The band would play that mournful tune right in the middle of a dance or a show that everyone was enjoying, right at the end of an otherwise pleasant little song.  Why?

Duke Ellington wrote that song in 1929, and he said:  “I just threw that in there to remind everyone that the good times do come to an end.”  And that was an especially provocative and piercing insight to hear now, in that program, decades after all those good times have indeed ended for everyone that I had been watching.  All of those great musicians have passed on, all of those singers and energetic dancers so full of life and energy then, are now dead, and all of those famous old dancehalls of the 1930’s and 40’s are closed.

     All of that energy, all of that fun, all of those people– just gone.  And Duke Ellington is gone, too.   And the last notes of Ellington’s song— first performed in the midst of those fun days– reminded everyone that it wouldn’t last.  And it didn’t.

     Ash Wednesday is the day in the church year that brings that same reminder.  ASH Wednesday it is called, as in ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust,’ those words always said at the cemetery during the burial service.  We begin the Season of Lent with a reminder of how we are all going to end up, just like Duke Ellington ended the song “Black and Tan” with such a reminder. 

     In the words of an older funeral liturgy—“In the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek comfort, but of thee, O Lord?”  It was in the midst of oppression and despair that the joyful, lively sound of jazz was born.  And then, in the midst of the joyful heyday of jazz, Duke Ellington threw in that reminder that in the midst of life, death is still all around us, still threatens, is still on its way.  In the words of the 23rd Psalm, we are always in the valley of the shadow of death.

There are seven billion human beings alive on planet earth right now, and every one of them is an incredible, wonderful, miracle of life; a special creation of God, so complex in mind and body that we cannot even begin to understand ourselves.  We carry within our minds millions of memories and impressions of events and people and feelings—all of which have made us what we are.  We each have our own unique personalities, our own store of wisdom and foolishness, of strengths and weaknesses, of good deeds and hidden sins.  And we each have a unique and special relationship with God; he hears us when we speak, he knows our name and understands us, he holds us in the palm of his hand, and he does not want to lose us by our leaving him.  Each of us, in body, mind, and spirit, is a miracle that not even all the scientists put together have begun to figure out.  They are still just scratching the surface.

     And yet, all of who you are and what you are depends on your body, what Shakespeare once called this “frail, frail flesh.”  And every single body lasts only so long, and then it dies, and that’s it—ashes to ashes.  That is the message of Ash Wednesday.

     You all just came forward for the Imposition of Ashes.  Those ashes are a symbol of death.  What this ritual is doing is literally rubbing into your face the disturbing fact that you will die.  “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”

     The last measures of Duke Ellington’s “Black and Tan” reminded the fun-loving dancers and all night partiers that they were on their way to something else—they were on their way to death.  Ash Wednesday brings that same reminder, but Ash Wednesday is not the end of Lent.  It is the beginning of Lent, and Lent also is on its way to something else.  Lent is on its way to Easter.  Lent begins where Duke Ellington ended—with death.  Without Jesus, and without Easter, the funeral march is the end of the story.  But with Jesus, death is just one step along the way to a new beginning.

     So you get ashes on your forehead as a reminder of death, but the ashes are placed there in the shape of a cross.  And that is a symbol of the fact that by his death on the cross, Jesus conquered death. 

     On Ash Wednesday we hear the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  On Easter we hear the words, “He is Risen, He is risen indeed.”

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Genesis 2:7  —  Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Genesis 3:19  —  (The Lord said to Adam), “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Daniel 12:2  —  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.

John 11:25  —   Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

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PSALM 90:1-3…12:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.  Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.  You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals…”  Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

1770) Twice Rescued

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By Lee Strobel

     Late one afternoon when I was fourteen years old, I was home by myself, painting with oil colors on a large canvas in the basement.  While acrylics dry fairly quickly, oil paints seem to take forever.  Quickly growing impatient, I plugged in a couple of heat lamps to hurry matters along.  Not smart.

     A short time later a pile of rags soaked with turpentine went up in flames.  Then the table started on fire, and soon the entire corner of the wood-paneled basement was ablaze.

     I ran to the telephone to call the fire department.  When I returned, I saw that the fire was out of control, with orange and yellow flames lapping the ceiling, which was directly beneath the living room.  I knew that if the fire burned through, the whole house would be consumed — and then I’d really be in trouble.

     I grabbed a bucket of water from the laundry room, dashed over to the fire, and threw it on the wall where the flames were climbing.  That hardly gave the fire pause.  The enclosed basement was rapidly filling with a thick, black, sooty smoke.  To make matters worse, the lights had shorted out.

     Choking on the smoke and acrid fumes, I was quickly becoming disoriented.  I couldn’t see the stairs anymore.  That’s when a horrible realization hit — I couldn’t save myself.  I wouldn’t be able to find the route out of the basement before I would be overcome.  I was in a life-threatening situation.

     Just then a police officer arrived and opened the door to the basement.  He stepped onto the top stair and began shining around a big flashlight.  “Police officer!” he called out.  “Anyone down there?”

     I could have analyzed the situation intellectually.  Things were serious in the basement; if I stayed down there too much longer, the chances were that I would die from the smoke and fire.  But the police officer knew the only escape route.  He was a trained professional and fully capable of leading me to safety.  What’s more, he held a big flashlight to illuminate the way for me.

     But it wasn’t enough just to understand all of that.  I had to take a step of action.  I had to put my faith in that officer — a faith based on facts — by letting him reach out and rescue me.  So I followed the light, and he put his arm around me and led me to safety, away from the inferno.

     Many years later I was faced with a spiritually equivalent situation.  After nearly two years of investigating the claims of Jesus, I knew he had unique credentials and credibility.  And based on what he said, I realized for the first time that I couldn’t save myself.  I was guilty of sinning against a holy God.  It was an open-and-shut case.  And the penalty was eternal separation from him.

I was hopelessly disoriented and lost, but Jesus was calling to me and reaching out to rescue me.  He was fully capable of leading me to safety.  He knew the way to eternal life.  In fact, he was the way.  And he didn’t need a flashlight, because as he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

     And yet just knowing that wasn’t enough.  I had to act on it.  I had to take a step of faith — not a blind or irrational step but one that was secure and firm because it was based on the history-proven trustworthiness of Jesus Christ.

     So on November 8, 1981, I allowed him to drape his arm around my shoulder and lead me out of the darkness, away from the inferno, and into a place of safety.

     Statistics show that 84 percent of Americans already believe in the credentials of Jesus Christ.  They’re convinced that he’s God or the Son of God.  Maybe you’re part of that majority.  But if you’ve never acted on that belief, it’s my hope that you’ll let him rescue you from your otherwise hopeless situation by praying to receive Christ as your forgiver and leader.

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John 8:12  —  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Luke 15:24  —  “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”  So they began to celebrate.

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PSALM 73:21-24:

When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.

1769) Explaining God

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By Danny Dutton, Chula Vista, California, when he was eight years old

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      One of God’s main jobs is making people.  He makes them to take care of things here on earth. He doesn’t make grownups, just babies.  I think that’s because they are smaller and easier to make.  That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk.  He can just leave that up to mothers and fathers.

     God’s second most important job is listening to prayers.  An awful lot of this goes on.  Some people, like preachers and things, pray other times than just before bedtime.  God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV on account of this.

     Jesus is God’s son.  He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and doing miracles, and trying to teach people about God who really didn’t want to learn.  They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him.  But he was good and kind like his Father, and he told his Father that they didn’t know what they were doing, and to forgive them.  And, God said, “Okay!”  His Dad appreciated everything he had done and all his hard work on earth, so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore.  He could stay, in heaven.  So, he did.

     You should always go to Sunday School because it makes God happy, and if there’s anyone you want to make happy, it’s God.  Don’t skip Sunday School to do something you think would be more fun, like going to the beach.  This is wrong!  And besides, the sun doesn’t come out on the beach until noon, anyway.

     If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you also will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you– like to camp– but God can.

     It’s good to know that he’s around when you’re scared of the dark or when you can’t swim very good and you get thrown in real deep water by big kids.  But, you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you.  I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

     And that’s what I believe about God.

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Isaiah 11:6  —  The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

Matthew 11:25  —  At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

Matthew 18:1-4  —  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child and had him stand among them.  And he said:  “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Mark 9:13-16  —  People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

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O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding:  Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

1768) Don’t Miss “The 15:17 to Paris”

A major studio has just released a film about three heroic Americans who stopped a terrorist attack—and it ties that heroism to their Christian faith.

By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, February 9, 2018 at: http://www.breakpoint.org

     On August 21, 2015, a high-speed train left Brussels bound for Paris.  Among the more than 500 passengers was a 25-year-old Moroccan man named Ayoub El Khazzani.

     Shortly after the train entered France, he emerged from the bathroom armed with an assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition, intent on perpetrating another terrorist massacre.

     After throwing one passenger to the floor and shooting another, he entered a compartment containing three life-long friends from Sacramento: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos.

     You probably know what happened next:  Skarlatos yelled “Get him,” and the three friends charged the gunman and subdued him.  In the process, Stone, who was an Air Force medic, was stabbed several times.  But despite his injuries, he treated the passenger who had been shot, placing his fingers into the man’s wound and pressing on an artery, which stopped the bleeding.

     Now you may remember hearing about this story.  But what you may not know is the role that the Christian faith played in it.  Thanks to Clint Eastwood’s new film, “The 15:17 to Paris,” that part of the story will get the attention it deserves.

     The film opens today with the tag line “In the face of fear ordinary people can do the extraordinary.”  The audience, of course, already knows what the “extraordinary” is, so Eastwood sets out to boldly tell “how” and “why” Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler did what they did.  In his words, their story “is all about faith and how you handle it.”

     His first, and perhaps boldest move was to cast the trio of heroes as themselves in the movie.  After considering many good actors to play the role, Eastwood said that there was just something about the men that prompted him to ask if they could play themselves.

     Eastwood’s second bold move was to tell their story before what happened August 15, 2015, and what led up to their decision that day to run into harm’s way when others were running away from it.

Shaping their story is faith, starting with the day that they met at Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, California.  What the men learned as boys from church, including what Sadler learned from his own father’s sermons, is portrayed as directly influencing their decisions on that fateful August day.

     What’s more, their belief that it wasn’t an accident they were on the train but was in fulfillment of God’s purposes, is expressed in the film in both word and actions.  As Skarlatos put it, “it was as if we were training our whole lives for that moment and didn’t know it.”

     Part of the training was the games they played as children: “politically incorrect” toys that shot plastic pellets and turned the neighborhood, in the words of Skarlatos’ brother, “into a war zone.”

     For Stone and Skarlatos, war ceased being a game when they joined the Air Force and the Oregon National Guard, respectively.  What they learned in the military prepared them for the very special task that God had waiting for them.

     And that’s ultimately what “The 15:17 to Paris” is about:  three Christians whose faith allowed them to see that, to borrow from the book of Esther, they were placed on that train “for such a time as this.”  In Stone’s words, they were “owning the life they had been given by God.”

     To put it mildly, this is not the kind of message typical of a major Hollywood studio release.  But I, for one, am grateful for it, and to the Warner Brothers studio and director Clint Eastwood for not burying the detail that most explains what happened on the 15:17 train to Paris.

Image result for 15:17 to paris movie images

Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone

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Of course, one way for us to say thanks, and to encourage future films like it, is to buy a ticket and go see it.  The movie is rated PG-13 for “bloody images, violence, some suggestive material, drug references and language.”  You may view the trailer here:

See the three heroes discuss their actions on the 15:17 and the movie:

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Esther 4:14b  —  …Who knows, but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?

Colossians 3:17  —  Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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

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This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

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1767) Strong and Weak

Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Vaneetha Rendall Risner

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By Vaneetha Rendall Risner, a freelance writer who blogs at: danceintherain.comShe is the author of The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.

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     There are so many things I wish someone could have told me at thirty, because at thirty I thought I had life figured out.  I didn’t.

     Life turned upside down quickly. I wish someone had said to me:  You are holding onto meaningless things, and you are believing in yourself for the wrong reasons.  Stop judging your life by your achievements or “blessings,” whether material or relational or reputational, because none of them will last.  What you now consider blessings will be taken away, and when they are, you will discover that being blessed is deeper and more lasting than you can imagine.

     There is no way I could have prepared my thirty-year-old self for what lay ahead.  How does one prepare for the unknown?  I’m glad I didn’t know what was coming, but I wish I had known that while God was taking away my earthly treasures, he was giving me something that could never be taken away — he was giving me himself.

     I wish I had known that trusting God would never be a mistake and that he would use every ounce of my pain for my good and his glory.  And I wish I had known that life in Christ would continue to get better, because Jesus always saves the best for the end.

     My late teens and twenties were marked by unmitigated success.  Named valedictorian of my high school class.  Accepted at every college I applied to.   After college, I worked for a prominent financial institution.  Earned an MBA from a prestigious university.  Met and married a business school classmate.  Flourished in my work as I climbed the corporate ladder.

     Life was glorious from a worldly perspective.  I was denied nothing my heart desired.  I had everything I wanted.  But it came with a price.  My once vibrant faith from college took a back seat to my career.  My quiet times were mostly on the run, if they happened at all.  My friendships were superficial, but I was too busy to care.  My faith was shallow, but it seemed good enough.

     Then I hit my thirties.  A serious marriage struggle put us in counseling for years.  Our infant son died.  I had four miscarriages.  I was diagnosed with post-polio syndrome, though the symptoms were just starting.

     My seemingly perfect life had taken a huge turn.  I had decided to stay home full time after our first child was born.  I shifted my focus from my career to being a devoted wife and mother.  I made gourmet meals, took photographs of my children’s every breath, and made scrapbooks to commemorate every occasion.

     I prayed for my husband and made time to be together.  I planned regular family nights and homeschooled our children.  I had consistent quiet times, taught women’s Bible studies, and mentored women on marriage.

     My struggles forced me to lean on God, and I learned to adjust to a different life — one that was less in the limelight, but still felt accomplished.  Just different priorities and accolades.

     But midway through my forties, it all fell apart.  My husband left for another woman, citing my inadequacies as a wife.  My children walked away from God in anger, highlighting my failure as a parent.  Our home became a place of rage and regret, the opposite of the sanctuary it once was.  My arms began failing because of post-polio, and so I had to stop cooking, scrapbooking, and hospitality  in order to concentrate on self-care.  Everything I worked for was gone.  The things that I had valued disintegrated.  There was not a shred of accomplishment I could cling to.

     Those days were more painful than I can put into words.  My friends and family rallied around me, but inside I was dying.  Nothing I had accomplished seemed to matter.

     I clung to God as I knew there was nowhere else to turn.  And from that desperation came an unexpected delight in God.  I craved fellowship with him.  His word revived me daily.  I prayed more earnestly.

     And my relationship with others had a newfound authenticity.  There was nothing to hide behind.  I had no appearances to maintain.  Everything was laid bare.  And I slowly realized in this epic failure there could be a blessing.

     As my life was tested by adversity and failure, I gained a truer sense of who I was.  It was not based on my achievements; or what people thought of me; or what I did or had done.  My identity was based on Christ.

     My successes in life never gave me security.  Quite the opposite, they pressured me to keep succeeding.  But failure gave me an inner confidence.  It has taught me about myself.  What I could lean on.  What could and would be shaken.  And what was unshakable.

     Amidst my failure, I understood more clearly what constitutes true blessing.  True blessing always rests in God himself.

     We offer nothing to God.  He isn’t after our success.  He wants our heart.  Our repentance.  Our dependence on him…  God’s greatest work in us is built on the ground of our failure.  God does his most extraordinary work when we rely on him alone.

     What would I tell my thirty-year-old self?  Trust God.  He is going to use everything in your life to draw you closer to him.  Don’t waste your suffering, for it will be the making of your faith.  And one day, as your faith becomes sight, you will be grateful for it all.

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“You don’t realize God is all you need until God is all you have.” –Tim Keller

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John 6:68  —  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

II Corinthians 12:9-10  —  (The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delightin weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Romans 5:3-4  —  We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

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Lord, help us today to look at our weaknesses and ailments and consider how may you use them as opportunities to reveal your grace and strength.

–Randy Alcorn

1766) What’s on Your Mind?

Cartoon about what we are thinking

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By Rick Warren, February 8, 2018 Daily Hope meditation athttp://www.pastorrick.com

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     For mental health, you must focus your mind on the right things — including these three specific things.

1. Think about Jesus.
You’ve likely heard the saying, “You become what you think about most.”  If you want to become more like Jesus, fill your thoughts with him.

     Hebrews 12:3 says, “Think about Jesus’ example.  He held on while wicked people were doing evil things to him.  So do not get tired and stop trying” (NCV).

 2. Think about others.
The Bible says in Philippians 2:4, “Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing” (TLB).

     Do you realize how counter cultural that is?  Everything in the world teaches you to think about yourself and nobody else.  But Jesus was counter cultural, and when you think about him, you’ll more easily think of others.

3. Think about eternity.
     “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT).  When you start focusing on truths like that, all of your problems are going to seem inferior compared to the glory, the joy, and the pleasure of the things you have to look forward to in eternity.

     Your mind is your greatest asset and also the greatest battleground.  Ask God to help you make the choice every day to feed on God’s Word, free your mind of destructive thoughts, and fill your mind with Jesus, others, and eternity.  Then, you’ll have won the battle.

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Hebrews 12:1b-3  —  Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Philippians 2:1-4  —  Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’

I Corinthians 2:9  —  However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen,what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him.

Philippians 4:4-9  —  Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  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.

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Grant me, Lord,
the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to me on earth.
Lead me to repent of my sins, the evil I have done and the good I have not done;
and strengthen me to follow the steps of your Son, in the way that leads to the fullness of eternal life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer (adapted)

1765) Philadelphia Eagles: Birds of ‘Pray’

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Philadelphia Eagles in prayer after a game.

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By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, February 6, 2018, at: http://www.breakpoint.org

     There were plenty of intriguing story lines behind Philadelphia’s amazing Super Bowl win.  One of them was the Christian faith of so many of those Eagles.

     In the days leading up to Sunday, Amazon Echo owners that asked Alexa who was going to win the Super Bowl received an unusual response: Alexa acknowledged, after much coughing and clearing of “her” virtual throat, that the Patriots were the favorites.  But she quickly added she was rooting for the Eagles for reasons having to do with character and motivation.

     And Alexa was right.  The Eagles won, despite Patriot quarterback Tom Brady’s monster game, and it’s almost impossible to deny that the outcome had to do with more than football.  In December, 2016, ESPN ran a story entitled “Members of the Eagles find common ground through spiritual devotion.”  What was described by the article can be rightly called “revival.”

     In October 2016, in a gathering whose video has gone viral, five Eagles players were baptized in the pool at their practice facility, while at least fifteen other players “prayed around them.”  If you do the math, that’s at least forty percent of the team roster.

     One of the players was linebacker Jordan Hicks, the defensive star of the Super Bowl.  And one of the people doing the baptizing was tight end Trey Burton, whom Sports Illustrated called the game’s “most unlikely hero” for throwing a fourth-down touchdown pass… to the Eagles quarterback Nick Foles.

     As ESPN told readers, “With the Eagles, you don’t have to look far to find players who point to faith as playing a primary role in their lives . . . There is Thursday Bible study at the facility, scripture text chains, and late-night prayer sessions at the team hotel the night before each game.”

     And it’s not just the players.  Head coach Doug Pederson, when asked how he felt about going from coaching high school football to winning a Super Bowl in just nine years, told NBC, “I can only give the praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.”

     Similarly, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, a former NFL quarterback, served as president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina between his playing career and returning to the NFL as a coach.  After leading the Buffalo Bills to the greatest comeback in NFL history in 1993, he recited the words to the song “In Christ Alone” at the press conference.

     And then, there are the quarterbacks: Carson Wentz and Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles.  Wentz is not shy about sharing his faith with anyone who will listen, including on Twitter.  Foles, who stepped in for Wentz after a season-ending injury, has said that he plans on becoming a pastor after his NFL career is over.

     Faith and football in Philadelphia also came together in a video Eagles players made for Football Sunday, an evangelistic outreach group.  In the video, Wentz told pastors that if they are “looking to impact the people in your community, please consider inviting me and other NFL players into your church this Super Bowl weekend.”

     The goal was to have churches use the Super Bowl and video testimonies by players like Wentz to reach non-Christian football fans.

     The Super Bowl story line only made their testimonies that much more effective.  The Eagles were forced to overcome huge odds, not least of which when Wentz went down in week 14 with an injury that not only ended his MVP caliber season, but seemed to end Philly’s Super Bowl hope as well.

     And yet it didn’t.  The Eagles, pardon the cliché, came together as a team.  But what’s certainly not a cliché is what brought them together: their shared faith in Jesus Christ.

     To say the least, it’s been a tumultuous season for the NFL.  Ratings are down, fans are disgruntled…  But even the Washington Post noted that the Eagles “strong faith” not only bound them together, but attracted “new fans” in the process.

     And that’s something we can all cheer for.

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Seek, Surrender, Serve 
Football Sunday video
Strong faith binds Eagles, attracts new fans 
Rob Maaddi | AP | January 26, 2018
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Exodus 19:3-4  —  Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel:  ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.'”
 
Isaiah 40:29-31  —  (The Lord) gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eaglesthey will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
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PSALM 103:1-5:
Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.