1764) What to Give Up for Lent

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Ecclesiastes 3:6  —  (There is) a time to search and a time to give upa time to keep and a time to throw away.

Judges 2;19b-20a  —  They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.  Therefore the Lord was very angry…

Galatians 5:22-23  —  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

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Lord, teach me to be generous;
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to look for any reward,
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.

–St. Ignatius

1763) “Society Should Do Something!”

Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed since a diving accident when she was seventeen (she is now 68), was speaking to her husband’s high school government class about the implications of ‘right-to-die’ laws.  She tells this story from the discussion that day in her book When is it Right to Die? (1992, updated 2018).

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     I was surprised by how interested they were as I divulged my despair of earlier days.  I admitted my relief that no right-to-die law existed when I was in the hospital and hooked up to machines.  I then underscored how critical it was for every student to become informed and involved in shaping society’s response to the problem.  Then I added, “What role do you think society should play in helping people decide when it is right to die?”

     A few hands went up.  I could tell by their answers that they felt society should take action to help hurting and dying people— some students insisting on life no matter how burdensome the treatment, and a few wanting to help by hurrying along the death process.

     One student shared how his mother was getting demoralized by the burden of taking care of his sister with developmental delays.  He felt society should, in his words, “do something.”

     “Like what?” I playfully challenged.

     “Like . . . I’m not sure, but society ought to get more involved in the lives of people like my mother.”

     I then asked him, “May I ask what you have done to get more involved?”

     The student smiled and shrugged.

     “How have you helped alleviate the burden?  Have you taken your sister on an outing lately?  Maybe to the beach?” I teased.  “Have you offered to do some shopping for your mother?  Maybe your mom wouldn’t be so demoralized, maybe she wouldn’t feel so stressed or burdened, if you rolled up your sleeves a little higher to help.”

     A couple of his friends laughed and threw wads of paper at him.  “Okay, okay, I see your point,” he chuckled.

     I smiled.  “My point is this:  Society is not a bunch of people way out there who sit around big tables and think up political trends or cultural drifts; society is you.  Your actions, your decisions, matter.  What you do or don’t do has a ripple effect on everyone around you.  And on a smaller scale, your participation can even make a huge difference in what your family decides to do with your sister.”

     The classroom fell silent, and I knew the lesson was being driven home.  I paused, scanned the face of each student, and closed by saying, “You, my friends, are society.”

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Matthew 25:34-40  —  (Jesus said), “The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

     “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

     “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Galatians 5:13  —  You were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love.

Mark 9:41  —  (Jesus said), “Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”

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 You are never tired, O Lord, of doing us good; let us never be weary of doing you service.  But as you have pleasure in the well-being of your servants, let us take pleasure in the service of our Lord, and abound in your work and in your love and praise evermore.  Amen.   –John Wesley

1762) “But I Say Unto You…” (part two of two)

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   (continued…)  I must add that Jesus also went by the book, but in his own unique, and sometimes, infuriating way.  Jesus did not preach against the Old Testament, nor did he ever dispute its authority.  In fact, he said in that same Sermon on the Mount that he came not to abolish, but to uphold and fulfill the old Law, and that not even one letter of the old Word of God should disappear.  But then Jesus would go on to preach and teach in such a way that went even beyond what the older Scriptures said, adding an even stricter interpretation of the Law; AND, and an even more loving and gracious understanding of God.  Jesus did not contradict, but reinterpreted, deepened, and strengthened all of what had come before.  And the people who heard him in person, said he did so with authority.

     So Jesus would say “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not kill,’ but I say unto you anyone who remains angry with his brother is subject to judgment, so do all you can to settle your differences.”

     Going on to the next of the ten commandments, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say unto you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart,” and thus, is in need of God’s forgiveness.

     It was not an easier path that Jesus was proclaiming.  People did not follow Jesus because they would have a less difficult time of it.  But they followed him because he taught ‘as one who had authority.’

     Not only did Jesus speak with authority, he acted with authority.  There is no end to the number of people in every field who can speak with authority; who can, with their eloquent and powerful words, woo, intimidate, and convince large numbers of people, and then gain a following, push for, promote, and sell just about anything.  Speaking with authority can get you a long way, but not all the way.  As the old saying goes, you have to not only talk the talk, but you have to walk the walk.  Jesus did ‘walk the walk.’  Along with his great words, Jesus also added great actions.

     In Mark 1:21-28 Jesus did not only teach with authority, but when confronted by a man possessed by an evil power, a demon, he cured him with a word.  “Come out of him,” Jesus said with authority, and then, says verse 26, “the evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”  And then for the second time in this brief text, we read that the people were amazed at how he spoke with such authority that even the evil spirits obeyed him.

     This story comes at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  He will, of course go on to demonstrate his authority in many other ways.  The people had heard it said that God created the heavens and the earth and that God ruled over all.  They would be amazed to see Jesus rule even the wind and the waves, having the authority to stop a storm at sea with his words.  Jesus would tell them that he was the bread of life, and then he would go on to miraculously feed thousands of people on more than one occasion.  And the people had heard it said that God had created them and given them the gift of life.  Jesus would offer to all the gift of eternal life, and demonstrate his authority over the power of death.  For many centuries they had already been praying that old favorite prayer, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.”  Now, they heard from Jesus that he is ‘the good shepherd,’ he is ‘the way and the truth and the life,’ and that He will bring us all the way through that valley of death to a new and resurrected life on the other side.  You can know that he has the authority and the ability to do so.

      I can understand the Pharisees initial reluctance to Jesus because of the way he seemed to put himself above even God’s Word.  I, like them, am a ‘by the book’ kind of person.  But then time after time Jesus clearly demonstrated that he was indeed more than a man; he did indeed not only speak with authority, but had an authority from heaven like no other human being has ever had.  He had a power over evil, power over nature, and even power over death.  So I do think, had I lived back then, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead would have convinced me to believe in Him.  In fact, it was becoming convinced of the historical truth of that resurrection in 1974 that kept me in the faith, after a long period of serious doubt and questioning.  Jesus not only spoke with authority, but he lived, died, and rose again with authority; and then Jesus calls on us to respond with faith. 

            Our response is to Jesus the most important thing we will ever do in this brief life.  Jesus said with authority, “I am the resurrection and the life, whosoever believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live again.”

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Matthew 5:17-18  —  (Jesus said), “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Matthew 5:21-22a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say unto you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.”

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Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ;

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

–Richard, Bishop of Chichester  (1197-1253)

1761) “But I Say Unto You…” (part one of two)

Woodcut by Gustav Dore  (1832-1833)

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From my January 28, 2018 sermon.

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Mark 1:21-28  —  They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.  The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.  Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?  I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

“Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly.  “Come out of him!”  The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority!  He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”  News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

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     How about these future sermon topics?…

     “You have heard it said, that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, but I say unto you that God had nothing to do with it.”…  Or, “You have heard it said that on the third day Jesus rose from the dead, but I say unto you he did not rise.” …  Or perhaps, “You have heard it said that that you should love and forgive those who wrong you, as you yourself have been forgiven, but I say unto you that if you can get revenge, then stick it to them all you can.”

     Would you have any problems with any of those themes?  Well, of course you would, and you should.  To begin with, all three statements contradict basic teachings of the Christian faith.  If you do not believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and if you do not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, you are by every definition not a Christian.  The Christian faith is defined by acknowledging some basic beliefs, and those are two of the most basic.  And the Christian life is defined by certain principles; principles taught and lived by Jesus Christ himself; and one of those principles is that we are to forgive others as we have been forgiven.

     But not only are all three statements the complete opposite of true Christianity, but there is something very wrong even in the way I said those things.  In each of those three statements, I put my false statement in the context of this phrase, “You have heard it said… but I say unto you.”  That is wrong because what I say unto you is of absolutely no value apart from what has already been said in God’s Word.  As your pastor, I have been called to preach and teach to you from God’s Word, and I have no authority to go beyond that Word to bring you anything new and different.  I might try and find new and different ways to teach, preach, or illustrate these ancient truths, but I have no authority to add anything to it, subtract anything from it, or to come up with anything new.  I have no authority of my own.

     However, it was this very thing which got Jesus into so much trouble with the church authorities of his day.  Jesus would often say in his sermons that very line that I told you that I must never say.  Jesus would say things like, “You have heard it said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (and of course they heard it, it is repeated three times in the Old Testament Law of Moses).  Yet, after saying that, Jesus was bold enough to go on to say, “BUT I say unto you, not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but if someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also, and love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”  You have heard it said, Jesus would say, and then go on to say, but I say unto you.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus used that phrase six consecutive times, going above and beyond what the Scriptures themselves had said.  The religious leaders of the day saw that as blasphemy; as a man putting himself above the written word of God.  Of course, if they would have accepted that Jesus was who he said he was, that would not have been a problem.  But not everyone was yet of the opinion that Jesus was the divine Son of God.  So when Jesus started talking like that, some of the leaders began talking about ways to get rid of such an arrogant, dangerous radical.

     But Jesus had the support of many people, as seen in the Gospel reading for this morning.  Look again at verses 21 and 22, which say, “They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.  And the people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the teachers of the Law.”  What was the matter with the teachers of the law?  Well, they had to work under the same restrictions I have to work under.  They were not allowed to come up with anything new, but they had to preach and teach on the basis of and according to their recognized authority; and what they had for their entire Scriptures is what we have now as the Old Testament.  Of course they weren’t supposed to preach and teach on their own authority, they were they to preach God’s Word by His authority. They were right about that.  They were just wrong about Jesus.  So in order to back up what they said, they had to do the same thing I do, which is to support everything I say with Bible verses.  Jesus would quote Bible verses too, but he would often quote them only to go on to add his own twist.

     I am a ‘by the book’ kind of person.  Therefore, had I lived back then, I would have probably been on the Pharisees side—at least for a while.  I don’t like it when so many liberal theologians these days feel free to go beyond the clear teachings of the Bible to come with all kinds of new things because they think we know more now than they did back then.  Sure, we know more about computers and that sort of thing.  But the Bible doesn’t tell us about computers and that sort of thing.  The Bible tells us about how to get along with each other, and we still need to do that.  The Bible tells us about forgiveness and reconciliation, instead of hate and revenge.  We still need that, and the Bible’s way still works better.  The Bible tells us about life after death, and we still die; and I have yet to learn of a credible solution to that problem other than the one offered by Jesus.  And sex was a part of life then, as it is now, and the Bible still has the best advice about our sexual desires; which is that is that sex should be kept within marriage.  The great promise of the sexual revolution of the last 50 years was that men and women would be freed from all of those old restrictions and we would all be better off.  A new and liberated sexual ‘free for all’ has been “taught, modeled, laughed about, and marketed non-stop in movies, television, fashion, and colleges.  Multiple sexual partners, sex outside marriage, sex on-screen, sex to get along, and sex to get ahead, all became a normal part of the newer, freer world.  And in this new world, the sexually pure have become oddballs and losers.”  (adapted from A Great Sexual Reckoning, Mindy Belz, World magazine, 12-30-17)

      But have you noticed lately; it looks like not everybody has been having fun?  Have you picked up on not only the disgusting evil and abuse of power, but also now the mass confusion about relationships and the widespread failure of relationships?  We are made to work and live together in certain ways, and sex within a lifelong commitment seems to work better than what we have going on now.  I don’t think we know more about sex now than what God told us in the Bible, even if some theologian with a Ph. D thinks so.  Like I said, the Pharisees had good reasons to stick with the book.  (continued…)

1760) Law and Gospel in the Courtroom

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Rachael Denhollander, the first to publicly accuse Larry Nassar

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“Rachel Denhollander and the Gospel of Costly Grace:  Naming Evil, Extending Forgiveness” by John Stonestreet with Stan Guthrie, February 2, 2018, at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

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     It was the most amazing courtroom testimony I’ve ever heard…

     Years ago, Rachael Denhollander was a vulnerable teenage gymnast under the supposed medical care of Larry Nassar, the Team USA gymnastics doctor who may be the most prolific sexual abuser in American history.  A year and a half ago, Rachael bravely filed a police complaint that ultimately led to his conviction on sexual assault charges and a prison sentence of 40 to 175 years.

     The number of Nassar’s victims has now reached over 260 young women, as more and more accusations continue to come in.  Last week in a Lansing, Michigan, courtroom, 156 of his victims gave statements detailing what Nassar had done, how his serial child molestation had been overlooked for decades, and how the system had failed these girls and women.

     Rachael Denhollander’s comments, however, went further.

     Leaving the judge to serve justice, Denhollander spoke directly to Nassar—and served grace.  But not before forcing Nassar to face the enormity of the evil he had inflicted on innocent children.  Denhollander clearly defined what Nassar did as sin.  “You have become a man ruled by selfish and perverted desires,” she said.  “You chose to pursue your wickedness no matter what it cost others.”

     And then amazingly, Denhollander, now a married mother of three, expressed pity for the monster that Nassar had become.  “In losing the ability to call evil what it is without mitigation, without minimization,” she said, “you have lost the ability to define and enjoy love and goodness.  You have fashioned for yourself a prison that is far, far worse than any I could ever put you in, and I pity you for that.”

     Denhollander, noting that Nassar had carried a Bible with him throughout the trial, reminded him that within that Bible Jesus said it was better to have a millstone tied around your neck and cast into the sea than it was to make one child stumble.  “You,” she said, “have damaged hundreds.”

     “The Bible [speaks of] a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you,” she continued.  “Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing.  And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet,” she continued.  “Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found.  And it will be there for you.”

     And then Denhollander did something that only Jesus Christ could inspire—she offered Nassar her forgiveness.  “I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt,” she said, “so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me—though I extend that to you as well.”

     Denhollander’s words were a near-perfect depiction of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”  Unlike cheap grace, which Bonhoeffer said we “bestow on ourselves” because we say we’re sorry, costly grace is “costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner.  Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son.”

     Denhollander’s testimony should, in my opinion, be studied for years to come in every seminary.  Her offer of forgiveness reminds me of what happened in Rwanda after the genocide, when believers unflinchingly acknowledged the evil of what the perpetrators had done to them, and then offered forgiveness because of Christ’ death and resurrection.

     The horrible story of Larry Nassar won’t be over anytime soon—nor should it be.  Thank God so much sexual abuse is now being revealed for what it is:  evil.  But also, thank God for the brave testimony of Rachel Denhollander revealing grace for what it is:  amazing… and only possible because of Jesus Christ.

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For more on this powerful testimony, go to: 

The Incredible Testimony as a Former Gymnast Confronts Her Sexual Abuser in Court 
Justin Taylor | The Gospel Coalition | January 24, 2018
 
BreakPoint This Week: A Gymnast’s Remarkable Testimony
John Stonestreet, Ed Stetzer | BreakPoint.org | January 27, 2018
 
The Price I Paid for Taking On Larry Nassar 
Rachel Denhollander | New York Times | January 26, 2018

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Matthew 18:6  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

Revelation 21:6-8  —  He (who was seated on the throne) said to me: “It is done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.  But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars— they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.”

John 8:10-11  —  Jesus… asked her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said.  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared.  “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

I John 1:9  —  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost, but now am found,
T’was blind but now I see.
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear,
And Grace, my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed.
–John Newton  (1725-1807)

1759) Meeting the Great Physician (part two of two)

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From “A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician,” by Kathryn Butler, February 17, 2017 in Christianity Today magazine, posted athttp://www.christianitytoday.com  Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon.  Her book on end-of-life medical care through a Christian lens is anticipated in 2019 (Crossway).  She writes at Oceans Rise.

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     (…continued)   Some time later, I transitioned to work in the ICU.  Among my patients was Ron (not his real name), a middle-aged man who suffered cardiac arrest after a hip replacement.  He had severe brain injury from lack of oxygen during the arrest, and depended upon a mechanical ventilator to breathe.  In a vegetative state, Ron would open his eyes, but showed no awareness of his surroundings.  Neurologists predicted he would never recover.

     Ron’s wife and daughters hovered at his bedside daily and prayed for a miracle.  They could not accept that the boisterous, football-loving, pizza-dough-tossing, belly-laughing man they cherished would never acknowledge them again.

     One morning, the ICU suddenly resounded with off-key renditions of cheesy 1980s tunes.  I found Ron’s wife at his bedside, singing as she cradled his hand beneath her chin.  She beamed when I approached her.

     “I was praying and praying last night, and when I woke up, I knew everything would be fine,” she declared.  “God told me he’s going to be just fine.”  I admired her conviction and her hope, especially as I had neither.  Yet her husband’s clinical data promised that everything would not be fine.

     For the next week, every day, she clung to him and crooned songs they both loved.  She prayed aloud.  She shouted blessings to everyone in the unit.  My colleagues and I struggled to conceal our worry.  We would shake our heads and cast each other glances that said, “This is heartbreaking.”

     One afternoon, she and her daughters shouted for me. I shuffled into the room, dreading the conversation.  “He moved his toe when we asked,” Ron’s wife said.

     I leaned within inches of Ron’s ear, and called his name.  I urged him to move.  Nothing.  “I’m so sorry.  It was probably just a reflex,” I said.

     “No,” his wife insisted.  “Watch.”  She put a hand on his shoulder, and shouted into his ear for him to wiggle his right big toe.  He did.

     The next day, he turned his head toward them.  Then, he blinked to command.  In two weeks, he was awake.  In three, he sat in a chair.

     At best, our neurologists had anticipated he might occasionally track moving objects.  No one expected that his condition would so dramatically resolve.  Medical science could not explain his recovery.

     I suspected I had witnessed a miracle.  Yet I still wrestled with God.  How could he bestow such blessings, yet allow suffering?

     Scottie encouraged me to read the Bible.  I started with the Gospels, then continued with Romans.  The words felt familiar, but with my newly opened heart, the reading unveiled Christ’s love in brushstrokes I had never fathomed.  The agony he suffered for our sake left me breathless.  He, too, had endured heartache and had confronted the face of evil.  And he bore such affliction—our affliction—for us.  Romans 5:1–8 revealed the awesome magnitude of God’s love for us.  He knows suffering.

     The Lord took my despair and fashioned a canvas for his perfect work.  Just as Christ raised Lazarus so that others might believe, so he redeems suffering—the gunshot wounds, the mourning, the lost jobs, the despondency beside bridge railings—for his glory.  In his mercy, he descends to buoy us up, and to complete miracles we cannot yet comprehend.  He pours blessings upon us every day—the jewel tones in autumn, but also the hard nights, and every breath in between.

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Matthew 14:14  —  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Luke 4:40  —   At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

Romans 5:1-8  —  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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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

1758) Meeting the Great Physician (part one of two)

A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician

From “A Critical Care Surgeon Meets the Great Physician,” by Kathryn Butler, February 17, 2017 in Christianity Today magazine, posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com .  Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon.  Her book on end-of-life medical care through a Christian lens is anticipated in 2019 (Crossway).  She writes at Oceans Rise.

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     My eyes darted to the tracing on the cardiac monitor.  The gaps between my patient’s heartbeats lengthened.  The plodding rhythm meant that blood, oozing from beneath his fractured skull, was crowding out his brain.

     He was 22, and someone had bludgeoned him with a baseball bat in his sleep.  His wife, lying beside him, died during the assault.  His four-year-old son witnessed everything.

     I thrived on the urgency of the emergency room— the chaos, the opportunities to reach people in dire moments.  Yet as I placed my patient’s central venous line, I struggled to focus.  I thought of his four-year-old son in footed pajamas, and the images of brutality he might never forget.

     As I wrestled with these thoughts, paramedics rushed in with a 15-year-old boy dying from a gunshot wound.  They were performing compressions to force oxygen-rich blood to his brain.  In a blur of adrenaline, I grasped a scalpel and surgically explored his chest.  I cupped his still heart and searched its borders with trembling fingers.  When my hand plunged into a yawning hole, I caught my breath.  The bullet had torn open his aorta.  We could not save him.

     As I fought tears, my trauma pager blared yet again.  Another 15-year-old boy.  Another gunshot wound.  This time, the bullet had struck the boy’s head.

     I tried to compose myself.  The least I could do, I thought, was to mend his wound, clean him, and give his family a final glimpse of the boy they loved.

     Midway through my work, the door opened.  I raised my eyes in time to see his mother walk into the room.  She froze, howled, and crumpled to the floor.  I tugged the bloodied gloves from my hands, rushed from the room, and hid my face as I cried.

     The next morning, as I finished my shift, I wandered about as if lost.  I despaired over how little life mattered to people.  Each of my patients had suffered at the hand of someone who looked at him and saw no worth.  How could God allow such evil?

     I had grown up as a nominal Christian.  My family observed certain Christian traditions, but we never read the Bible or talked about the gospel together.  I understood Christianity to be synonymous with good behavior.

     After work, I drove for hours.  A hundred miles from my home, I parked at a bridge that spanned the Connecticut River.  Mountains flanked the bridge, and the October sun set the horizon afire in jewel tones.  Below me, the river shone like polished metal.

     I gripped the guardrail, tipped my face against the wind, breathed, and felt . . . nothing.  I parted my lips to pray, but no words came.

     I felt cut off from God.  I thought the Lord—if he even existed—had abandoned me.

     Thereafter, I fell into agnosticism.  Doubt led to hopelessness, and hopelessness to despair.  I dreamed of an eternal sleep, of numbness, of annihilation.  Thoughts of taking my own life troubled me daily.  I fought the impulse to return to the bridge over the Connecticut River and hurl myself over the railing.  Only love for my husband, Scottie, brought me home each evening.

     Months later, Scottie lost his job.  While I struggled with the problem of evil, he sought the church, understood the Word for the first time, and accepted Christ as his Savior.  Scottie invited me to join him in worship, but I remained disillusioned.  When I finally attended church to appease him, the sanctuary, the singing, and the ceremony seemed awkward and foreign.  He would bow his head in prayer, and I would stare ahead with my thoughts cast outside the church walls, my gaze defiant.  (continued…)

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Ecclesiastes 4:2-3  —  I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive.  But better than both is the one who has never been born, who has not seen the evil that is done under the sun.

Psalm 35:22  —  Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.  Do not be far from me, Lord.

Psalm 71:12  —  Do not be far from me, my God; come quickly, God, to help me.

Job 11:11b  —   When He sees evil, does he not take note?

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

–Psalm 22:1 and Matthew 27:46

1757) “Remember Those in Prison”

Image result for sudan prisoner images

From the Standing Strong Through the Storm devotional, posted January 26, 2018 athttp://www.opendoorsusa.org

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Hebrews 13:3a  —  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison… 

     Matta Boush, an outspoken evangelist in South Sudan was arrested on political charges under questionable circumstances.  He was given a sentence of thirty years at a local military prison.  Many people around the world prayed for him, and for his family at home.

     He asked prison authorities for permission to hold prayer meetings.  At first they declined, saying, “We already have a mosque; you should go there.”  But Boush persisted and eventually the authorities relented.  For the first prayer meeting, only six people showed up.  In a few weeks, more people were going to the prayer meeting than the mosque.

     A few years later, he was transferred to another city prison.  As he had in the first prison, he asked for, and received permission to conduct prayer meetings.  Again he was told to limit his work to non-Muslims, yet as he continued to minister to non-Muslims, they, in turn would talk to Muslims.  The result was that during his five years of ministry in that prison, he helped lead between 150 and 200 people to Christ.

     Transferred again to another prison, he was able to help build a prison chapel there.  After several months, prison officials told him that he did not really belong in prison, so he was given the freedom to leave the prison by day and return by night.  Boush was glad to get out and meet with friends he had in Khartoum, but soon he realized that he could not effectively witness to his fellow prisoners if he had freedoms they were denied.  He told the prison officials he would no longer go out.  He knew it was not God’s time.

     Later, he was offered private air-cooled sleeping quarters (summer temperatures exceed 104 degrees).  But Bousch’s most productive time for witnessing was at night, so he declined the offer.  He saw fruit for denying his own comfort to do what he felt God was calling him to do.  In ten months, 200 more people came to the Lord in the prison.

     Without warning, he was one day released early and returned to his family.  Matta Boush’s enemies had hoped to steal his life from him by throwing him into prison, but God had given him a true “life” sentence: to share the hope of eternal life that comes through Jesus Christ.

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Luke 22:33  —  But he (Peter) replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”

Hebrews 13:3  —  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

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

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Lord, meet the needs today of Christians around the world in prison for their faith in You.  Help them to glorify You in their situation.  Bless their family members waiting patiently at home.  Amen.

Standing Strong Through the Storm