1845) An Unexpected Guest

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Philip Yancey  (1949- )  (My favorite living Christian writer)

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By Philip Yancey, posted April 26, 2018 at:  http://www.philipyancey.com

     Sitting on the platform as a visiting speaker, I feel as if I have entered a time warp from the late 1950s.  I look out on a church sanctuary packed with people dressed in their Sunday finest.  These days, pastors where I live in Colorado tend to wear jeans and untucked shirts; here, in a 125-year-old church in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb, they are wearing robes over tailored suits.

     Behind me gleam the pipes of the organ.  Members of the large choir, who are also dressed in robes, stand to sing a classical piece for the offertory.  As they sing I scratch through my notes, cutting extraneous details.  “The second service is the most time-sensitive of the three,” the pastor has warned me.  “We live-stream it, so please don’t go longer than fifteen minutes.”  And now comes my time to speak.

     I’m ten minutes into my sermon when a man strolls down the right aisle.  In this white-bread congregation anyone with brown skin stands out like a granite rock in a snow field, and the congregation’s eyes follow him all the way to the second row, where he takes a seat.  I can’t resist looking that way too.  He has a shaved head, and a diamond earring in his right ear catches the light.  I note his muscular build, biceps bulging beneath his short-sleeved dress shirt, and then turn my attention back to the sermon.

     60 seconds, 45, 30—I watch the countdown clock in my peripheral vision and end just in time.   As I turn toward my seat behind the pulpit, suddenly the visitor in the second row stands up and says in a loud voice, “Excuse me, Reverend.”  I stop in mid-step.

     “Thank you for what you said there.  I really appreciate it,” he continues.  “And now I have something to say to the folks here.”

     A cloud of tension descends on this prim and proper church service.  Clearly, nothing like this has ever happened here before.  I glance at the senior pastor on the platform, who is staring at the bulletin.  A trained usher moves toward the front, reaching discreetly under his sports coat for a firearm, just in case of trouble.

     The visitor faces the crowd and says, “I love Presbyterians!  You’re beautiful people.  I spent 27 years in prison on drug charges, and while I was there two beautiful Presbyterians visited me and introduced me to Jesus.  They changed my life.  I was driving by here and saw the church and decided I just had to come inside.  My wife doesn’t even know I’m here.”

     I can sense the tension going down a notch.  I don’t know when this church last held a testimony meeting, but so far we’re feeling relieved, liking what we hear.

     “Things are going well for me,” he says.  “I cleaned up my life, served my time, and got a decent job.  My family’s living in a house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and two decks.  Life is good.”  Interesting detail, I think to myself—two decks.

     He’s not finished.  “There’s just one problem.  I lost that job.  I got another one, but I won’t get paid for a couple of weeks.  And if I don’t come up with $853.50 by tomorrow, they’ll change the locks on that house and I’ll be out on the street again, homeless.”  He keeps talking as the congregation sits silent, not knowing what to do.

     I catch the senior pastor looking at his watch, and remember his warning about the strict time limit.  With my headset microphone still on, I step down off the platform, walk over to the visitor, and say, “God bless you, brother.  That took some courage.  And I know there are people in this church who will want to hear all about it after this service.”

     The choir director approaches the music stand to lead a closing hymn.  The armed usher backs off.  The visitor collapses on the pew, sobbing.  The service draws to an end.

     All this time my wife is sitting one row behind the visitor.  A trained social worker, she has heard scores of similar stories at our former church in inner-city Chicago.  This man, is he a skilled spinner of tales or a visiting angel come to test the spirit of a wealthy church?  She watches as a few people gather around him to talk while a parade of others stuff his pockets with folded bills.

      I have just spoken on Mark 9, a chapter in which Jesus scolds his disciples for their lack of faith, their selfishness, and their attitude of intolerance.  In a flash our unexpected guest has cut right through the theoretical sermonizing and brought a dose of the real world to a county that the 2010 census ranked as the 25th richest in the nation.

     “From what I could see,” Janet reports later that day, “he more than covered the money he claimed to need.  And even if it was a scam, it certainly didn’t hurt the people who gave.  They had a chance to put into practice what you were speaking about.”

     After returning to Colorado, I email the senior pastor and ask about any follow-up on the visitor.  What did they learn?  It turns out that he was from Washington, D.C., not Pennsylvania, and earlier that Sunday he had given the “Methodist” version of the same speech at the town’s Methodist church, where he collected $500.

     The pastor seems unperturbed by the deception.  He writes,

The best part of it—the congregation’s generosity and desire to assist him was genuine, heartfelt, and engaged.  I told them so the next Sunday, and suggested that however he chose to use the funds he received from us was not our worry—only that God would use the seeds of generosity planted that morning.

     Extending grace always involves risk.  A gift can be ignored, rejected, or exploited—a fact that applies to God’s grace toward us as well as our grace toward others.

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Psalm 103:8-10 — The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

Ephesians 2:8-9  —  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Isaiah 53:6  —  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

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I am heartily sorry, and beg pardon for my sins; especially for my little respect and for wandering in my thoughts when in your presence; and for my continual infidelities to your graces; for all which I beg pardon, by the merits of the Blood you shed for them.  Amen.

–Lady Lucy Herbert (1669-1744)

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1844) Jesus’ Unanswered Prayers

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By author Philip Yancey, posted January 21, 2018, at: http://www.philipyancy.com

     Do you ever find yourself repeating the same requests over and over and wonder, “Is anyone really listening?”  I take some consolation in remembering that Jesus, too, had unanswered prayers.

     According to Luke (6:12-13), Jesus spent an entire night in prayer before choosing the twelve disciples.  Yet if you read the Gospels, you marvel that this dodgy dozen could be the answer to any prayer.  They included the traitor Judas Iscariot, the overly ambitious Sons of Thunder, and the hothead Simon Peter, whom Jesus would once address as “Satan.”

     I wonder if, in a private moment, Jesus prayed something like, “Father, I wanted the best twelve disciples, not these thickheads.”  He came close in this sigh of dismay over the Twelve, “O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17a)

     I find it comforting that while on earth Jesus faced the same limitations as does anyone in leadership.  Whether you’re the CEO of a large company or the parent of a small family, at some point you have to let go and trust those to whom you delegate.  The Son of God himself could only work with the talent pool available.

     Another unanswered prayer occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane when, in Martin Luther’s phrase, “God struggled with God.”  As Jesus lay on the ground, his sweat falling like drops of blood, his prayers took on an uncharacteristic tone of pleading.  He “offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death,” Hebrews says.  But of course Jesus was not saved from death.

     In the darkness Jesus felt acutely alone, for his closest friends had all fallen asleep.  “Could you not keep watch for one hour?” he chided.  I for one am glad that Jesus didn’t face death with Socratic composure.  He experienced fear, and perhaps indignation, like most of us who suffer.

     A dramatic change takes place, however, between that scene in the Garden and what follows.  The Gospel accounts of Gethsemane show a person in anguish.  Afterwards they show one who, more than Pilate, more than Herod, seems in utter control.  At his trials Jesus is no victim; he is serene, unflappable, the master of his destiny.

     What happened that night in the garden?  What made the difference?  We don’t know the content of Jesus’ prayers, since potential witnesses were all dozing.  He may have reviewed his entire sojourn on earth.  The weight of all that remained undone may have borne down upon him: his disciples were unstable, irresponsible; the movement seemed in peril; God’s chosen people had rejected him; the world still harbored much evil and much suffering.

      Jesus approached the very edge of human endurance.  He no more relished the idea of pain and death than you or I do.  “Everything is possible for you,” Jesus pleaded to the Father; “Take this cup from me (Mark 14:36)”  Somehow, though, in Gethsemane Jesus worked through the crisis by transferring the burden to the Father.  It was God’s will he had come to do, after all, and his plea resolved into these words: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Not many hours later he would cry out, in profound summation, “It is finished (John 19:30).”

     How many times have I prayed for one thing only to receive another?  I long for the personal detachment, the faith, that I see worked out in Gethsemane.  God alone is qualified to answer prayer, and at some point we have to let go and trust God, who can transmute our self-focused requests into an unimaginably larger plan.  When Jesus prayed to the one who could save him from death, he did not get that salvation; instead, he got the salvation of the world.

     One more unanswered prayer appears in an intimate scene recorded by John: Jesus’ final supper with his disciples.  That evening the scope of Jesus’ prayer expands far beyond the walls of the upper room, to encompass even those of us who live today:

My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.   I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.… (John 17:20-22)

   Disunity virtually defines the history of the church.  Pick at random any year of history—pick today—and you will see how far short we fall of Jesus’ final request.  The church, and the watching world, still await an answer.

     Jesus’ best-known prayer contains this line: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).”  So far that, too, remains unanswered.  Human history hangs in the balance, suspended between the already and the not yet.

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

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10

1843) Down Syndrome Lives Matter

Reblogged from the “Eternal Perspectives Ministries” website, April 25, 2018, by Randy Alcorn at: http://www.epm.org

     Years ago, the television series “Life Goes On” portrayed a teenager named Corky who had Down syndrome.  The starring role was played by a young man with Down syndrome, and many people were touched by his winsome performance. Critics raved.  But many of the same critics favor the killing of these children, just like Corky, before they are born.

     A survey of pediatricians and pediatric surgeons revealed that more than two out of three would go along with parents’ wishes to deny lifesaving surgery to a child with Down syndrome.  Nearly three out of four said that if they had a Down syndrome child, they would choose to let him starve to death. [1]  This is not only horrible, but baffling, for many Down children are the happiest you’ll ever meet.  These children require special care, of course, but surely they deserve to be born and to live as much as any of us…

     Some argue: “It’s cruel to let a Down syndrome or handicapped child be born to a miserable and meaningless life.”  We may define a meaningful life one way, but we should ask ourselves what is meaningful to the handicapped themselves:

A 2011 study by Harvard University researchers found that rather than leading lives of suffering, people with Down syndrome have unusually high rates of happiness.  An amazing 99 percent said they are happy with their lives, 97 percent like who they are, and 96 percent like how they look.  “Overall, the overwhelming majority of people with Down syndrome surveyed indicate they live happy and fulfilling lives,” the researchers found. [2]

     “A slew of recent studies has shown that people with Down syndrome report happier lives than us ‘normal’ folk.  Even happier than rich, good looking and intelligent people.” [3]

     Wouldn’t you suppose we’d want more people of any group characterized by such happiness?  Tragically, however, studies show that of mothers who receive a positive diagnosis of Down syndrome during the prenatal period, 89 to 97 percent choose abortion. [4]  This means that the children most likely to be happy are also most likely to be killed before birth.  Reports show that Iceland’s abortion rate for unborn Down syndrome babies is almost 100%.  Denmark’s is 98%. [5]

      When adults kill a handicapped child, preborn or born, they may think it’s for her or his good, to prevent future suffering.  But in doing so, they aren’t preventing cruelty to the child; they’re committing cruelty to the child.  And in reality, it’s most often done in order to prevent difficulties for themselves and others.

     I was touched by a video of Charlotte Fien, a British young woman who eloquently challenged a UN “expert” on human rights who advocates for aborting Down syndrome babies.

     Here’s a transcript of what Charlotte said:

Mr. Ben Achour, your comments about people with Down syndrome deeply offend me.  I felt you attacked me for being who I am.  Who am I, Mr. Ben Achour?  I’m a human being just like you.  Our only difference is an extra chromosome.  My extra chromosome makes me far more tolerant than you, sir. . . . If any other heritable traits like skin color were used to eradicate a group of people the world would cry out.  Why are you not crying out when people like me are being made extinct?  What have WE done to make you want us to disappear?  As far as I know my community doesn’t hate, discriminate, or commit crimes. . . .

I keep hearing you use the word “suffering” in relation to Down syndrome.  The ONLY thing we have to suffer are horrible people who want to make us extinct.  I have a brilliant life.  I have a family that loves me.  I have great friends.  I have an active social life.

Mr. Ben Achour, what you are suggesting is eugenics.  It’s disgusting and evil.  You need to apologize for your horrible comments.  You should also be removed from the Human Rights Committee as an expert.  You are not an expert about Down syndrome.  You sir, do not speak for my community.  The Human Rights Committee needs people who will genuinely fight for the rights of others who are being oppressed.  I suggest that the Human Rights Committee appoint me as an expert.  I will fight for our right to exist for the rest of my life.

     Charlotte is joined by a chorus of courageous individuals with Down syndrome who are speaking out about their right to life.  In her TEDx talk, my fellow Oregonian Karen Gaffney asked, “I have one more chromosome than you.  So what?”  An accomplished open-water swimmer, Karen has crossed the English Channel in a relay race and completed the swimming leg of the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon.

     Last year, 18-year-old Natalie Dedreux from Cologne asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel a tough question about Germany’s abortion laws:  “Mrs. Merkel, you are a politician.  You make laws.  I’m an editor at a magazine for people like me who have Down syndrome.  Nine out of ten babies with Down syndrome in Germany aren’t born.  A baby with Down syndrome can be aborted days before the birth, in what is called ‘late stage abortion.’  My colleagues and I want to know what your opinion on late-stage abortion is, Mrs. Merkel.  Why can babies with Down syndrome be aborted shortly before birth?”

     “I don’t want to be aborted, I want to be born,” Natalie concluded, to applause.

       When Frank Stephens, a young man with Down syndrome, gave a speech before a U.S. House appropriations panel, he told members of Congress, “Just so there is no confusion, let me say that I am not a research scientist.  However, no one knows more about life with Down syndrome than I do.  Whatever you learn today, please remember this: I am a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living.”

Gerber Spokesbaby

    There is one recent positive sign in American society: Gerber named Lucas Warren, who has Down syndrome, as their 2018 Gerber Spokesbaby.  Looking at Lucas’s precious smile, how could there be any doubt that he and other children with Down syndrome have lives worth protecting and cherishing?

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[1] Curtis Young, The Least of These (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1983), 118.

[2] Marc A. Thiessen, “When will we stop killing humans with Down syndrome?,” The Washington Post, March 8, 2018.

[3] Jevan, “People with Down Syndrome Are Happier than Normal People,” The Tribal Way (blog), October 2, 2012.

[4] H. Choi, M. Van Riper, and S. Thoyre, “Decision Making Following a Prenatal Diagnosis of Down Syndrome: An Integrative Review,” Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 57, no. 2 (March/April 2012): 156–164.

[5] Marc A. Thiessen, “When will we stop killing humans with Down syndrome?,” The Washington Post, March 8, 2018.

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Luke 6:31  —  (Jesus said), “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”

Psalm 139:13-14  —  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 22:9-10  —  You brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.  From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

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A MOTHER’S PRAYER DURING PREGNANCY:

O Lord God Almighty, who hast made us out of nothing, and redeemed us by the precious blood of thine only Son; preserve, I beseech thee, the work of thy hands, and defend both me and the tender fruit of my womb from all perils and evils.  I beg of thee, for myself, thy grace, protection, and a happy delivery; and for my child, that thou wouldst preserve it for baptism, sanctify it for thyself, and make it thine forever.  Through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

The Christian’s Guide to Heaven, 1794

1842) “Where Are Your Wounds?”

From Faith that Endures, by Ron Boyd-MacMillan, (Fleming Revell, 2006), pages 322-323.

      The Biblical scholar William Barclay described a New Testament Christian as having three remarkable characteristics: “One, they were absurdly happy; two, they were filled with an irrational love for everyone; and three, they were always in trouble.”  Persecuted Christians are constantly in trouble.  As a Palestinian pastor put it, “If you speak truth to power, power always reacts.”  An encounter with the persecuted reveals the incendiary nature of this gospel we follow.

     Persecuted Christians are not tempted into the illusion that the world is actually a friendly place that does not mind our identifying with Christ.  The world for them is unmasked in its hostility to Christ.

     Once when visiting Czechoslovakia in the 1980’s, I delivered a Bible to an elderly pastor.  He had not seen a Bible in years.  He smelled it, kissed it with trembling lips, cradled it, and then with great reverence, opened it.  Then he turned to me and said, “Let me tell you of my wounds.”  And he poured out his trials for God, which included seven beatings by the secret police and the awful seduction of his daughter by a government agent who then fooled her into betraying him.  Then he turned to me, his eyes boring into my soul, and asked, “What wounds have you for the Master?”  I was embarrassed to have so few to share.

     The questions of the Persecuted Church are simple: Are you in trouble for Jesus?  Where are your wounds?  If you don’t have any, maybe you’ve forgotten you’re in a fight at all.  Whatever culture we are in, we are always being subtly coerced into spending our money, or time, on what is not of Christ.  Persecution afflicts us all if we stand up for Christ.  The world, the flesh, and the devil will never reach an accommodation with Christ.  Like it or not, we are caught up in cosmic warfare.  The gospel has landed us in it.  We will all be scarred by the battle.  We will all experience persecution.  The difference is only one of degree and type.

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I Peter 4:12-16  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.  If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

II Timothy 3:12  —   Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

John 15:18  —  (Jesus said), “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

I Peter 5:6-10  —  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith,because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast.

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PRAYER FOR THE PERSECUTED CHURCH (By Rev. Norman Olsen, Starbuck, MN)

Merciful Father:  Hear the cries of your people who are being persecuted and killed for your Name’s sake; who are threatened with the sword to “deny or die”; who are made to watch as their own children are slain; who are tortured for the sake of a religion; and who must flee their homeland for their lives, if they can.

We join our prayers with their cries for deliverance, O Lord, asking that you embrace them with your nearer presence and provide your promised deliverance in the midst of their suffering.  Breathe in them your peace which passes all understanding, and assure them that nothing in all creation can ever separate them from your love which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Strengthen them as you did for all the saints and martyrs who went before, with the confidence that death is of no lasting consequence in your eternal Kingdom.

We pray for the conversion of the evil doers, as they hear the compelling witness of the Gospel on the lips, and in the lives, of the persecuted church.  And finally we implore your forgiveness for our sins of indifference and apathy towards the persecuted church.  With shame we confess that so much suffering has met with so little awareness and response.

Imbue us, O Lord, with your Living Word, the Holy Spirit, that we may stand in solidarity with all who willingly suffer for the sake of Christ.  We open our hearts, praying, not only for the suffering church, but that their suffering may teach us faithfulness today, and what it costs to stand for the Gospel in the evil day; confident that while sorrow may linger for the night, joy comes in the morning.  In the name of Jesus we pray.  Amen.

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1841) Atheist Leap of Faith

 WHAT’S THE GREATER LEAP OF FAITH:  GOD OR THE MULTIVERSE?

By Brian Keating, posted April 23, 2018 at:  

https://www.prageru.com/videos/whats-greater-leap-faith-god-or-multiverse

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Watch the video or read the transcript below (Bible verses at the bottom):

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     How did we get here?  I mean, literally. Not just you and me, but the whole shebang.  How is any kind of life possible?  The universe is a hostile place—solar flares, cosmic rays, asteroids flying about.  The odds against our existence are truly astronomical.

     Take it from me—I’m an astrophysicist.  My job is to look out into space, at stars and galaxies, trying to answer these basic how-did-the-universe-come-to-be questions.

     Well, those who have a religious faith have an answer: God.

     The earth’s distance from the sun, the size of the atom, and a thousand other things large and small that allow us to live and to breathe and to think all seem perfectly tuned for our existence.  To many, this design suggests a designer.  But from a purely scientific point of view, the faithful have a big problem: They can offer no indisputable proof for this belief.

     Because of the lack of hard evidence, it’s probably not surprising that over 70% of the members of the National Academy of Sciences declare themselves to be atheists.

     But they have a big problem, too. 

     Absent a creator, how do they account for the existence of the universe, of planet earth, of human consciousness?  How do they account for the existence of …anything?

     Well, turns out they have an answer.  And it’s become all the rage in scientific circles.

     It’s called the “multiverse,” and according to many scientists, our universe isn’t the whole ball game; far from it.  These scientists argue that there are an awful lot of universes out there—not just one or two, but an infinite number.

     Let me explain:

     13.8 billion years ago, there was a Big Bang—from something unimaginably small (we don’t know exactly what), the universe exploded into existence.  How did it happen?  Why did it happen?  Doesn’t matter.  ‘Cause it happened.

     Immediately after the Big Bang, the universe underwent a rapid expansion.  Think of a gush of bubbles exploding from a seriously shaken soda can just after it’s popped open.   Cosmologists call this the Theory of Inflation.

   As the universe inflates and expands—the bubble universes grow and separate to become their own distinct entities, each with their own unique properties.  In other words, new universes are spawned—and not just a handful…an infinite number of them.

     Some of these universes would be too cold for life, and some too hot.  But, with an infinite number, surely one is bound to get it just right.  In short, you and I are just an accident that, given enough universes, was inevitable.

     But, wait—there’s more.  Because there are so many universes, it’s very likely, according to the multiverse scenario, that everything that could possibly happen does happen in one universe or another.  That girlfriend who broke up with you?  You’re married to her in another universe.

     Does this sound a bit far-fetched?  A little science-fictiony?

     Well, not to Nobel Prize-winning scientists like Steven Weinberg or the famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking, as well as a myriad of others who whole-heartedly endorse it.

     But here’s what’s really surprising:  They endorse it knowing there’s not a single shred of hard scientific evidence that supports it.  And how can there be?  There’s no way we can access another universe.

     In short, a vast number of the world’s most eminent scientists believe in something that hasn’t been, and in all likelihood, will never be proven.  How does that sound to you?

     Probably the same way it sounds to the distinguished physicist Paul Davies:

     “Invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as [made up] as invoking an unseen Creator.  The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.”

     Or, as G.K. Chesterton quipped: “When men stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing; they believe in anything.” For multiverse believers, this is literally true: the same scientists who reject God’s existence due to lack of evidence pin their hopes on a theory so all-inclusive and vague it can never be refuted.

     Those who believe God created the universe are intellectually honest enough to admit that they do so on the basis of faith.  But those who believe in the multiverse are also keeping the faith.  They just don’t admit it.

     So, let me ask you, who’s taking the bigger leap?

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For more on the Christian’s leap of faith go to:

https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/1754-the-leap-of-faith/

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Romans 1:18-22  —  The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

Psalm 111:2…10a  — Great are the works of the Lord; they are studied by all who delight in them…  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Colossians 1:15-17  —  The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

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PSALM 8:1…9:

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

You have set your glory in the heavens… 

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

1840) Hope Adjustment

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By Lewis Smedes (1921-2002) in Standing on the Promises, 1998, pages 58…81-84.

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     Tammy Kramer was chief of the outpatient AIDS clinic at Los Angeles County Hospital.  She was watching a young man who had come in one morning for his regular dose of medicine.  He sat in tired silence on a high clinic stool while a new doctor at the clinic poked a needle into his arm and, without looking up at his face, asked, “You are aware, aren’t you, that you are not long for this world—a year at most?”

     The patient stopped at Tammy’s desk on his way out, face distorted in pain, and hissed: “That S.O.B. took away my hope.”

     “I guess he did.  Maybe it’s time to find another one.”

     …There was an old cavalry motto that went like this: “When your horse dies, dismount and saddle another.”  To that good ‘horse sense,’ I would add a piece of ‘hope’ sense:  when a hope dies, let it go, and saddle another.

     Hope does not have to die when hopes die.  It only needs to be readjusted to fit the new reality that the death of one hope left us with.  Call it “hope adjustment”—getting old hopes in sync with new reality.

     I suppose you could say that this is what my mother did when my father fell back dead on his pillow that hope-killing Monday morning.  While he was alive, my mother could live off crumbs of hope from my father’s table.  But when he left, her secondhand hopes died with him.

     Her new reality was that at age thirty she was alone in a strange land with five small kids to feed and no job skills to earn the money to feed them with.  The New Deal and public welfare were eleven years away.  She understood English little and spoke it less.  She had no relatives on the continent.  The only people she had were a couple of upright neighbors whose Christian counsel to her was that she should give two or three of her children away.  This was her new reality.

     Did she have any hope left to adjust to her reality?  Not many hopes.  But hope? Yes, she had one.

  Every night, when she had finally gotten us all to bed and all the lights were out, she would get on her knees in front of a wobbly kitchen chair and make her appeal to heaven with desperate cries.  I slept in a small room within easy earshot of the kitchen, and I waited for her parting petition, which was the same every night.  She named each of us, beginning with Jessie, the oldest, running down through Peter, Catherine, and Wesley, and then finally me, Lewis.  It was as if she were holding all of us kids up for God to see what He had left her with…

     Saturday nights were toughest.  They were the nights when, after doing the whole week’s chores in one day—without benefit of a gas stove, bathtub, telephone, or hot tap water—she had to get us all scrubbed for the Lord’s Day.  Sometimes, done in and at her wit’s end, she would leave the five of us squabbling and whining in the kitchen and closet herself in the bathroom, sit on the toilet seat, bury her face in her wet apron, and slowly rock back and forth.  On the forward swing she would bawl in wordless heaves, and on the back swing she’d suck in an unbelievably long breath for the next heave.

     The five of us didn’t know what to say to each other. We stood around looking at each other, silent, then giggling some, ashamed.  I looked at her through the keyhole and wanted to cry.  Then my sister Catherine would relieve our awkward guilt by shrugging it all off with: “Ma is having her Saturday night fit again.”  We giggled.  A child’s cruelty?  I don’t think so.  It was the only way we could lift the unbearable burden of being the cause of our mother’s despair.

     In the vacuum of God’s terrible silence, in the emptiness of her lonesome abandonment, she was reducing all the hopes that she had borrowed from my father to this one, open-ended, fallback hope– hope that God would come, hold her up, and keep her going.  My mother was adjusting her share of my father’s big hopes for big things to her own hoping for almost nothing at all.  But the adjustment was not from hoping for big things to hoping for small ones.  The adjustment was from hoping for things from God to throwing herself on the lap of God; just to keep some mustard seed of hope alive.

     Life is a series of hope adjustments. To let old hopes fade away and to settle on new ones.  This is to grow up as a human being in a world that can grind any hope to dust.

     If our hopes of having a nest full of children died from acute infertility, we can adjust our hopes to fit other children we love, children we adopt or children we teach.  If our hope that our children would be stars that lit up the sky died when it became clear that they were able only to light a small candle, we can adjust our hope to the possibility that they may light up one small nook of their small world.

     Getting old is prime time for hope adjustment.  As we creep into the geriatric stage, we begin to accept the fact that many of our highest hopes are not going to be realized.  So we lower the level and narrow the gauge of our active hopes, and leave the unfulfilled big ones with God… 

     I find that my hope mellows some with age, with my early discontent with the way things were is melting down to gratitude for the way things are.  I am sometimes stunned by how much better my life is than I once dared hope it would be.  And I find myself (bit by bit) adjusting my earlier hopes that were born of discontent with the way things were, to a more serene hope that I will be content at last with whatever God wills to give.

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Isaiah 49:23c  —  You will know that I am the Lord.  Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.

Romans 5:3b-5  —  Suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

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Psalm 25:1…4-5:

In you, Lord my God, I put my trust…

Show me your ways, Lordteach me your paths.

Guide me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are God my Savior,
    and my hope is in you all day long.

1839) A Child’s Prayer

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By Lee Strobel, in The Case for Miracles, 2018.

     In Equatorial Africa, far from pharmacies and hospitals, a woman died in childbirth, leaving behind a grieving two-year-old daughter and a premature baby in danger of succumbing to the chill of the night.  With no incubator, no electricity, and few supplies, the newborn’s life was in jeopardy.

     A helper filled a hot water bottle to maintain the warmth desperately needed by the infant, but suddenly the rubber burst—and it was the last hot water bottle in the village.

     A visiting missionary physician from Northern Ireland, Dr. Helen Roseveare, asked the orphans to pray for the situation—but a faith-filled ten-year-old named Ruth seemed to go too far.

     “Please, God, send us a water bottle,” she implored.  “It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, the baby’ll be dead; so please send it this afternoon.”  As if that request was not sufficiently audacious, she added, “And while You are at it, would You please send a dolly for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?”

     Recalled Roseveare, “I was put on the spot.  Could I honestly say, ‘Amen’?  I just did not believe that God could do this.  Oh, yes, I know that He can do everything.  The Bible says so, but there are limits, aren’t there?”

     The only hope of getting a water bottle would be from a parcel sent from the homeland, but she had never received one during the almost four years she had lived there.  “Anyway,” she mused, “if anyone did send a parcel, who would put in a hot water bottle?  I live on the equator!”

     A couple of hours later, a car dropped off a twenty-two-pound package.  The orphans helped open it and sort through the contents:  some clothing for them, bandages for the leprosy patients, and a bit of food.

     Oh, and this: “As I put my hand in again, I felt the . . . could it really be?  I grasped it, and pulled it out.  Yes.  A brand-new rubber, hot water bottle!” said Roseveare.  “I cried.  I had not asked God to send it; I had not truly believed that He could.”

     With that, little Ruth rushed forward.  “If God has sent the bottle, He must have sent the dolly too!” she exclaimed.

She dug through the packaging and found it at the bottom of the parcel: a beautifully dressed doll.  Asked Ruth, “Can I go over with you, Mummy, and give this dolly to that little girl, so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”

     That parcel had been packed five months earlier by Roseveare’s former Sunday school class.  The leader, feeling prompted by God, included the hot water bottle; a girl contributed the doll.

     And this package, the only one ever to arrive, was delivered the same day Ruth prayed for it with the faith of a child.

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As many other Emailmeditations have made abundantly clear, miracles do not always immediately happen in response to our prayers.  As made abundantly clear in this story, sometimes God does respond with a miracle.  We pray, and then we trust God, leaving everything in His hands.

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Matthew 17:20  —  (Jesus said), “… Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 26:36  —   Going a little farther, Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup (of suffering) be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

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

–Jesus, Matthew 6:10b

1838) A Child’s Plea

tiana cherish sherry

     A Canadian girl’s simple, poignant plea to her fighting parents is resonating with millions of people online.  Six-year-old Tiana lives in Surrey, British Columbia.  Last week, the first-grader overheard a disagreement between her parents, and pulled her mom aside for a chat.

     “I want you and my dad to be settled and be friends.  I’m not trying to be mean.  I just want everyone to be friends.  And if I can be nice, I think all of us can be nice, too,” Tiana says calmly in a video that her mom, Cherish Sherry, later posted to Facebook (see below).

     “I’m trying to do my best in my heart.  I want you, Mom, my dad, everyone to be friends.  I want everyone to be smiling.  Keep it down low.  Not like being mad,” the little girl continues, with her hands on her heart.  “I think you can do it.”

     Sitting on the stairs, she continues, “If we live in a world where everyone’s being mean, everyone’s going to be a monster.”

     Over 10 million people have watched Tiana’s plea, with thousands commenting on how the soft-spoken girl speaks volumes on what it means to be compassionate.  There are a million cute videos out there, but this is one we can all learn from.

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Proverbs 15:1  —  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Ephesians 4:2  —  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Psalm 133:1  —  How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.

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.

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Almighty and most merciful God, who hast given us a new commandment that we should love one another, give us also grace that we may fulfill it.  Make us gentle, courteous, and patient.  Direct our lives so that we may each look to the good of others in word and deed; for the sake of him who loved us and gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

–B. F. Westcott, Bishop and Bible scholar, (1825-1901)

1837) Praying for Your Enemies

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By John Piper

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Matthew 5:44  —  (Jesus said), “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

     Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love and obedience, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them.  You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them.  But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf.

     It may be for their conversion.  It may be for their repentance.  It may be that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts.  It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it.  But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.

     This is what Jesus did as he hung on the cross when he said:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”   (Luke 23:34)  

     And it’s what Stephen did as he was being stoned:

Falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!”  (Acts 7:60)

     Jesus is calling us not just to do good things for our enemy, like greeting them and helping supply their needs; he is also calling us to want their best, and to express those wants in prayers when the enemy is nowhere around.

     Our hearts should want their salvation and want their presence in heaven and want their eternal happiness.  So we pray like the apostle Paul for the Jewish people, many of whom made life very hard for Paul:

My heart’s desire and prayer to God is for their salvation.  (Romans 10:1)

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FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US.  As we are forgiven by you, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us.  Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge.  May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper.  We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart.  Amen.

–Martin Luther

1836) One Thing Needed (part two of two)

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     (…continued)  If you asked Sidney if there is life after death, he would say, “Yes, I think so; that seems to be a commonly held belief.”  But if asked whether or not such a belief was reasonable, scientifically speaking, he would be hard pressed to say anything definite.  If you asked him whether or not he believed Jesus really rose from the dead, he would say, “Yes, I know the Bible says he did, but I never really looked into it for myself.”  If you asked him what Jesus said about eternal life and about heaven and how to get there, he would quickly admit that he doesn’t know what Jesus said about any of that.  At this point, he may wonder why the questions are all only about Jesus, and he might say that all religions talk about heaven, and they all seem to believe in that same thing, and so there must be something to it.  But he would be quite incorrect about that.  The various religions of the world say very different things about what happens after you die– but Sidney would be very uninformed about any of that.  Finally, if asked what will happen to him after he dies, Sidney would be honest enough to admit that he does not really know, nor does he have any strong beliefs on the subject.

   Sidney is an imaginary person I invented to illustrate the approach that many people take to this whole subject.  Countless surveys of people’s beliefs show that most people believe in some kind of life after death, but many will readily admit to being completely ignorant of reasons for that belief and what that might mean.  They might have some vague beliefs, picked up here and there from a variety of sources, mostly unreliable, oftentimes from people as uniformed as themselves.  Yet, these same people will take great pains to know all there is to know about other matters that are mere trifles by comparison.

     Why would someone not want to know all about a matter of such eternal personal consequences, and instead be content to know all about the Civil War, or the Minnesota Vikings, or NASCAR racing, or house decorating, or gardening, or, as the man in Jesus’ parable, making money?  All of that might be useful, enjoyable, and even necessary knowledge, but it all is useful only for a little while, and must not be pursued to the exclusion of what one needs to know for eternity.

     Sidney would tell you that his interest in the Civil War has given him a full and interesting life, but according to this parable, God would consider him a fool.  Sidney has achieved much for himself, but he is certainly not rich towards God.  In fact, he clearly pays no attention to God.  This neglect of God is typical, and many people live their whole life with that same foolish and careless indifference to that which is most important.

   Many Bible verses tell us what God has done for us.  This parable of Jesus tells us something that we need to do in response.  We need to pay attention enough to know what God says about something so vital to our own interests.  God said to the man in the parable,“This very night your life will be required of you.”  One day God will say that to Sidney, and, to you– and what then?  God then said to the rich man, “You fool.”  What will God say to you?  Have you been indifferent, uninterested, and careless?  If you do not want anything to do with God, God will, when that time comes, let you have your way, and you will enter eternity without Him, and without hope.  

     As Jesus said so clearly and simply in Mark 4:9, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

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Luke 10:38-42  —  Now it came to pass, as they went, that Jesus entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.  But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?  Bid her therefore that she help me.  And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

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Grant to us, O Lord, to know that which is worth knowing, to love that which is worth loving, to praise that which pleases you most, to esteem that which is most precious to you, and to dislike whatsoever is evil in your eyes; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis (15th century)