1835) One Thing Needed (part one of two)

LUKE 12:16-21:

     Jesus told them this parable:  “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do?  I have no place to store my crops.’
     “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years.  Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
     “But God said to him, ‘You fool!  This very night your life will be demanded from you.  Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’  This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

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

      Sidney is an expert on the Civil War.  Ever since junior high school he has been fascinated by those four years of American history, and it has been his lifelong passion to read about it, study it, and become completely absorbed in the spirit of that period of time.  His career was teaching Civil War History in college, and now, in his retirement, he spends every vacation traveling around the country to Civil War battlefields.  He loves to spend hours walking the old battle grounds, imagining, and reliving in his mind all what happened there.  There is so much he knows. 

      Sidney knows all about not only the events of the war, but also all about the political background of the conflict, and the personalities of all the major players, and the long term repercussions of everything related to that war.  He can tell you about General Lee’s hesitation to fight for the South, he can tell you about President Lincoln’s frustration in finding a capable general, and about the weaknesses and failures of each one until the great General Grant finally took over.  Sidney can tell you about Abraham Lincoln’s faith, which was tested and then deepened by the war that took up almost his entire presidency.  He can tell you about dishonest contractors that cheated the government out of millions of dollars, while the army had a hard time supplying the union soldiers with blankets.  He can tell you about the terrible conditions of the prisoners of war kept in overcrowded camps, and how soldiers had a better chance of surviving the fiercest battles than making it to the end of the war in some of those camps.

     Sidney knows more than almost anyone about the Civil War, but like anyone else, Sidney does not know everything about everything.  He knows how to drive a car, but don’t ask him to check the oil.  He can buy a can of soup and put it in the microwave, but he can’t cook much else.  He had children and now he has grandchildren, but he still doesn’t know how to change a diaper.  Not everyone can be an expert in every area, and Sidney has made his choices.  He has chosen to focus all his energy and attention on acquiring knowledge of the Civil War.  His knowledge of the war is impressive, but he is lacking in some other areas and attributes.

     We all have our areas of expertise, and there are those many other things of which we are quite ignorant.  What Jesus is saying in this parable from Luke 12 is don’t be a fool and be ignorant about God and your eternal soul.  “There is one thing needed,” said Jesus to the busy Martha and her sister Mary two chapters earlier, and whatever your interests and skills and obligations, you must not ignore that one thing that is needed above all other things.  Only God is worthy of our fullest devotion.  Money, pleasure, prestige, career, hobbies, travel, or Civil War knowledge are all things that can consume our fullest devotion and dedication.  While there is nothing wrong with giving those kinds of things some attention, we must not be a fool like the man in the parable and pay no attention to the God who created us.

     Sidney knows all about the Civil War, but not much about anything else, including God.  In Luke 12:21 Jesus points out our need to be concerned about eternal things, being ‘rich toward God’ as he puts it there.  We all need a place to live, and we put considerable time and money into providing a home for ourselves.  It would only seem reasonable that we should be concerned also about our eternal dwelling.  Our lives here will be over in a very short time, and we will then be in our next home (whatever that might be), and we will be there for all the rest of time.  It would only make sense that we would want to know something about that next destination, and make any necessary preparations for it.

     The Bible has a great deal to say about all this, but Sidney has had very little time for the Bible.  He could tell you how the Bible was quoted during the Civil War by both the North and the South, both in defense of and in opposition to slavery.  But as for what the Bible says about his own eternal soul, Sidney could tell you very little.  (continued…)

Image result for civil war memorabilia collection images

1834) Finishing the Drill

By NFL veteran tight end Benjamin Watson, posted September 20, 2015 on his excellent website blog at:  http://www.thebenjaminwatson.com

Image result for benjamin watson

     In 2001, The University of Georgia introduced Mark Richt as its new head football coach.  One of the first things he did as coach was implement a new motto for our football program.  The words “Finish the Drill” became the heartbeat of Georgia Football.  They were on t-shirts and posters; they even put them on the locker room walls.  To become a great team, Coach Richt knew that we needed to finish everything we did.  Finishing is what separates good from great.  Anyone can do just what is required of them, but the best finish everything they do with effort and excellence.  In the classroom, in the weight room, and on the field, everything we did was predicated on Finishing the Drill.  From 5:45 a.m. winter workouts, to stifling two a days, to the fourth quarters in the regular season, the words “Finish the Drill” (or FTD for short) reminded us to always strive for the perfection that would one day lead to a championship.

     Finishing the Drill is not a new concept, though.  It’s a theme throughout Scripture.  At the end of his life, alone and in a Roman prison, the apostle Paul inked these words to his young disciple in the faith, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Paul would leave this world confident that he would receive the crown of righteousness the Lord has promised those who are faithful to Him.  He wasn’t perfect or sinless, but he ran the course God had laid before him with excellence.  Thus, he felt victorious when facing death.  Because of his faithfulness to Christ, Paul eagerly awaited being in the presence of his Savior and Lord.

     Jesus is our ultimate example of what it means to finish.  Before he gave up His spirit on the cross, He uttered, “It is finished.”  Jesus came to finish God’s awesome plan of salvation.  He came to pay the penalty for our sins.  He glorified the Father by completing the work He was given.  Because He finished, we can become new creations and live in freedom from the bondage that sin has on our lives.  We can live life abundantly with no condemnation and spend eternity with Him because He finished!

     My hope is that at the end of my life I too can say that I finished the drill, that I fought the good fight, that I kept the faith, that I finished as a husband, a father, a teammate, and a friend.  We have to take an honest assessment of our lives.  At this moment can we say that we have wholeheartedly run the race God has laid before us; that we have been obedient to His call on our lives?  Our time on this earth is a blessing from God, and He expects us to be good stewards of the time we have.  There is no greater purpose in life than to know God and to make Him known.  There is no better way to do this then to finish the work He has given us to do.

Image result for benjamin watson

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

II Timothy 4:7-8  —   I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

John 19:28-30  —  Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

I Corinthians 9:24-27  —  Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Acts 20:22-24  —   “Now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

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

O Lord,
support us all the day long of this troublous life,
until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in thy mercy,
grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest,
and peace at the last.  Amen.

–John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

1833) Praying God’s Promises

Related image

By Rick Warren, posted April 17, 2018 at:  http://www.pastorrick.com

———————-

     When we pray, we can claim the promises of God.  Why do we do this?  Because it helps us remember what God has promised.  Did you know there are over 7,000 promises in the Bible?  These promises provide the answer to all our needs and problems.

     Prayer focuses our attention on God and helps us to see that he is bigger and more powerful than any of our concerns.  And as we see God answer our prayers, our faith deepens.

     Faith is the key that unlocks the door to God’s power.

     Here are just a few of God’s promises:

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14 NIV).
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Isaiah 40:29 ESV).
“But those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.  They will rise on wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not grow weak” (Isaiah 40:31 GNT).
“Don’t be afraid, because I am with you.  Don’t be intimidated; I am your God. I will strengthen you.  I will help you.  I will support you with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10 GW).
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking” (James 1:5 NLT).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV).
“It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you.  He will not fail you or abandon you.  Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8 AMP).
“But my God shall supply your every need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19 MEV).
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4 NASB).
“You willingly forgive, and your love is always there for those who pray to you” (Psalm 86:5 CEV).

     Choose one of the promises from today’s devotional, and write a prayer to God expressing your gratitude for his unfailing love and faithfulness.  Talk to him about his promise, and tell him that you are trusting in him to fulfill his promise.  Here’s an example:

God’s Promise

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.  He will not rebuke you for asking” (James 1:5 NLT).

Sample Prayer

Father, there are so many times I forget to ask for what I truly need, and wisdom is one of those things for which I forget to ask.  I’m so grateful for this Scripture and the promise it holds.  Thank you for being so generous and willing to give me the wisdom I need in my everyday circumstances.  God, I want to live by the promises and principles in your Word, and not by the world’s standards.  Teach me to boldly ask for wisdom daily so I can navigate life according to your will and for your glory.  I ask this in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

1832) A Pretty Good Person

Related image

In these daily meditations I have often told stories of the great heroes of the faith– reformers like Martin Luther, missionaries like John Paton, and evangelists like Billy Graham.  I have also told many stories of the tremendous courage and character of those who suffer for their faith in nations where Christians are persecuted.  These stories of extraordinary lives of faith inspire me to a stronger faith in my more ordinary life, and I hope they do the same for you.

I have also told stories of ordinary people I have known who have had extraordinary faith, doing the best to serve God with what they were given, even if it was in more humble circumstances.  I am also inspired by these people, as I was inspired last week when I read A Pretty Good Person: What it Takes to Live With Courage, Gratitude, and Integrity (1990).  This book by Lewis Smedes (1921-2002) describes the Christian life for ordinary people, those doing the best they can with the hand they have been dealt.  In the book (pages 69-71) Smedes tells the following story of a man who faced some tragic losses and had some painful regrets.  Yet, he could be content with what God had given him, take comfort in God’s forgiveness, and look back on his life with gratitude.  He won’t make the history books, but he was ‘a pretty good person.’  God does not want us to depend on our good works for salvation, God does not want us to take pride in our goodness, but God does want us to be good.

————————–

   John Maakgeld lived most of his life in garbage.  It began with his father.  When Theodore Maakgeld came to this country, he settled in Cleveland as a helping hand on a garbage truck, in the days when garbage was hoisted on dump trucks over a human shoulder.  His boss dropped dead at the dump one day, so Theodore bought the truck from his widow.  Until the day he died he earned a decent living by carting garbage from uptown restaurants to the landfills on the edge of town.  As soon as his shoulders were big enough, John Maakgeld helped his father heave the garbage from the cans to the truck and then off again.  As a young man, John bought his own truck.

     It did not take John long to figure out that there was more money to be made if he could get his hands on more than one truck someday, hire drivers, and keep several of them going at the same time.  Before he was thirty he managed to get four trucks on the road, and figured he was on his way to big things in garbage.  But three bad things happened to him along the way to the top of the heap.

     First came a meeting with a Cleveland chapter of the mob.  They told John that nobody could haul garbage in Cleveland without paying for protection.  But John told them he figured on being an exception to the rule.  A week later somebody stole one of his trucks, loaded it to the hilt with fresh manure, backed it into his garage, and blew it up with dynamite.  This persuaded John that paying tribute was a necessary evil in garbage hauling.

     The second bad thing that happened was the Vietnam War.  His son Ted was drafted, but he had moral feelings about not going.  He wanted to be a conscientious objector and run away to Canada.  John believed that when a young man’s country calls him to fight a war, that person has to go, whether it’s the war of his choice or not.  Anybody who ran away was no son of his.  Ted was shamed into the draft, and went to Vietnam.  He was there for a couple of months when a squadron of American fighter planes accidentally strafed his platoon.  Ted died by military mistake.

     The third bad thing happened to his wife, Lanie.  Lanie’s left leg suddenly wouldn’t do what she told it to do; and, two years after Ted got killed in the war, Lanie was told she had multiple sclerosis.  She needed a lot of care, and it changed John’s life.

   Garbage began to stink.  He felt like a coward for doing business with crooks.  The war turned bad, and Ted’s dying lost its point.  So did hauling garbage.  And now Lanie was sick and was going to get worse.  He stayed in the business because he was fifty and didn’t know how to do anything else.  But he sold off four of his five trucks, kept only one, drove it himself, finished the run by noon, and dedicated his afternoons and evenings to Lanie.

     John is in his seventies now.  Lanie is gone.  He mostly pokes around in his Sears cords and rag-wool sweater, cooking meals, cleaning the house, and keeping his Buick tip-top.  If you got him talking about his life, you would get a stream of thought that goes something like this:

How do I feel about the life I’ve lived?  I’m not complaining.  Not ashamed either; getting rid of garbage is important.  People don’t think about that until it piles up.  I wish to God I hadn’t paid off those crooks.  But I did it, so what can I do?  I wish to God I had never talked Ted into going to war.  It seemed right to me then, and given who I was and how I felt about this country, I’d probably do it again, but I’m sorry I did.  What I believe is this.  My life is one little stitch in the sleeve of God’s big pattern.  Lanie always said that I did pretty good with what God gave me to work with.  And she did a lot to get me to believe that God forgave me for my foul-ups.  I’m grateful for that and I’m settling for what I’ve had and what I’ve done.

     We all have a story to tell.  We have to take responsibility for it– the bad chapters and the good, the good choices and the bad choices– in the sure knowledge that God will forgive us the bad ones and set us free to write better ones in the time we have left.

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

Galatians 6:9  —  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Acts 10:37-38a  —  You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good.

Psalm 37:3-4  —  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.

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

Lord, I have to make a choice, and I’m afraid that I may make the wrong one.  But I have to make it anyway and I can’t put it off.  Guide me to do what is right in your eyes.  Then, I will make my choice, and trust you to forgive me if I do wrong.  And, Lord, I will also trust you to help make things right afterward.  Amen.

–Soren Kierkegaard

1831) “I’m So Glad…”

The Humboldt Broncos hockey team, 15 of whom were killed when their team bus collided with a truck in rural Saskatchewan, April 6, 2018.

—————————-

By Tony Reinke, April 10, 1028, athttp://www.desiringgod.org

————-

     The tragedy of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team is hard to process.  Eyewitness testimonies from the scene Friday evening are unspeakable.  People have been asked not to share photographs from the chaotic scene, and so far it seems they haven’t.

     That scene has been dubbed “the valley of the shadow of death” — a team bus, with 29 on board, colliding with a semi truck in rural Saskatchewan.

     Fifteen members of the team were killed, including the head coach.  Fourteen injured.  At the time of writing, twelve remained in hospital, four with critical injuries such as severe head trauma and coma, and four with serious injuries such as paralysis.

     Today I connected with Canadian Mary Kassian, a Christian author and speaker who is closely connected to the hockey scene in Canada.  One of her sons is former NHL hockey player Matt Kassian.

     “The head coach was a Christian,” Mary said, “and he used his position to mentor the boys on his team to be men with character . . . and to know Jesus.”  Her son, who knows two of the families of those who died, said with tears streaming down his face while watching the team vigil, “I’m so glad those boys had people in their world who told them about Jesus.”

     Christ had been the theme of the team’s pastor.  And during the Sunday night vigil, that team pastor, Sean Brandow, shared with a watching nation the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

     He did so in a heavy setting of sorrow, in the Humboldt Broncos arena, in a town of about 6,000.  There, in tears, he said, “I liked to look at the names on the back of the jerseys, and I think it’s really fitting now.  I want you to know that we hurt with you.  Each name represents a family.  The Bible tells us that God knew each of them before they were born. He gave them breath.  He ordained their days” (Psalm 139:13-16).  Into this shadow of death, Pastor Brandow offered the light of Christ’s resurrection:

Jesus did not stay dead. . . . He says to his disciples who are listening to him in John 10:11, ‘I am the good shepherd,’ and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

So how do we know that God is with us in our suffering? Because Jesus was here, Jesus went through every bit of suffering before we ever did. We have someone that has gone ahead of us and before us into the heavenly realms and who now sits and intercedes on our behalf — we talk to Jesus, we commune with Jesus, we cry out to Jesus. And it’s in this time that we need a shepherd who has walked through this valley before, who can guide us.

     Through tears he went on to comfort a broken team, a broken town, a broken country, with the sovereignty of our good Father.

God is on the throne and God is with the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).  We know that God is on the throne, Jesus walked this earth, he died, he was buried, he rose again.  It says in the Scripture that he is now seated at the right hand of the Father, in control of setting up our leaders, putting people in the place where they need to be at just the right time, for just the right purpose, making sure that things line up according to his plan.

I don’t claim to understand how this seems like it’s in God’s control at all, but it is.  He’s still on the throne, he’s still God. . . .

     “You need Jesus,” Brandow pleaded at the vigil, just as he has been recently pleading with each player on the team. “Jesus has walked here. He’s walked it first, and death couldn’t hold him.  He’s alive.  Amen.”

     “I have never seen the media in our country write about Jesus so openly,” Mary said, “or even dare to speak of Christ in a positive manner.  But that small-town hockey chaplain, in his raw, honest brokenness, is opening doors for sharing the gospel in an unprecedented way.”

——————

Go to the link below to view the sermon at the funeral of the hockey players:

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

Psalm 34:18  —  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 139:15-16  —  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Romans 15:13a  —  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.

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

Psalm 23:4a:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.

1830) Look for the Helpers

 In times of trouble, adults seeking to reassure inquisitive children who are aware of frightening events in the news but are too young to fully understand them, often turn to the example of Fred Rogers, the gentle and genial host who for over 30 years delivered lessons on love, kindness, and friendship to children on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

     The Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood section of the PBS web site offers some advice on “Helping Children Deal with Tragic Events in the News,” including the following:

During his lifetime, Fred Rogers offered reassuring ways of helping families with difficult times, beginning with his response to Robert Kennedy’s assassination.  Over the years since then, there have, unfortunately, been many tragic events during which parents and educators turned to him for his calming and thoughtful insight.  Fred Rogers’ wisdom is timeless, and his messages continue to be valuable for children and the people who care for them, as we deal with the events of today’s world.

In times of community or world-wide crisis, it’s easy to assume that young children don’t know what’s going on.  But one thing’s for sure, children are very sensitive to how their parents feel.  They’re keenly aware of the expressions on their parents’ faces and the tone of their voices.  Children sense when their parents are really worried, whether they’re watching the news or talking about it with others.  No matter what children know about a crisis, it’s especially scary for them to realize that their parents are scared.

Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to give our children all the reasons for such things as war, terrorists, abuse, murders, fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes.  If they ask questions, our best answer may be to ask them, “What do you think happened?”  If the answer is, “I don’t know,” then the simplest reply might be something like, “I’m sad about the news, and I’m worried.  But I love you, and I’ll take care of you.”

If we don’t let children know it’s okay to feel sad and scared, they may try to hide those feelings or think something is wrong with them whenever they do feel that way.  They certainly don’t need details of what’s making us sad or scared, but if we can help them accept their own feelings as natural and normal, their feelings will be much more manageable for them.

Fred Rogers often told this story about when he was a boy and would see scary things on the news: “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.’  To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.   If you look for the helpers, you will know that there is hope.”

     This bit of autobiographical advice is something Fred Rogers was offering at least as far back as 1986, when he wrote in a syndicated newspaper column that:

I was spared from any great disasters when I was little, but there was plenty of news of them in newspapers and on the radio, and there were graphic images of them in newsreels.  For me, as for all children, the world could have come to seem a scary place to live.  But I felt secure with my parents, and they let me know that we were safely together whenever I showed concern about accounts of alarming events in the world.

There was something else my mother did that I’ve always remembered: “Always look for the helpers,” she’d tell me.  “There’s always someone who is trying to help.” I did, and I came to see that the world is full of doctors and nurses, police and firemen, volunteers, neighbors and friends who are ready to jump in to help when things go wrong.

————–

Click on image for one minute video of Rogers telling his story:

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

I Peter 4:10  —  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

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

Hebrews 6:10-11  —   God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.  We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.

Matthew 5:14-16  —  (Jesus said), “You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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

Almighty God, you have blessed each of us with a unique set of gifts, and you have called us to specific occupations, relationships, and activities in which to use those gifts.  Enable us to use our talents to serve you and to witness to our faith in you.  Keep us steadfast in our commitment to serve in your name.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship: Occasional Services, (#504) (adapted) 

——————————-

Image result for mr. rogers look for the helpers

1829) An Hour-and-a-Half of Brain Cancer

Related image

By Joshua Rogers, posted November 23, 2010 at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

——————————

     Last Friday afternoon, I got a call from my neurologist’s office.  I had recently gotten an MRI, and my doctor’s secretary had called to say my doctor wanted me to see an oncologist.  I didn’t know why my doctor wanted me to see a cancer specialist; and unfortunately, the secretary didn’t either.

     “Please, if you know what this is about, tell me,” I said.

     “I’m really sorry,” she said.  “I don’t, but I’ll have the doctor call you back today.”

     When I hung up the phone, my hands were shaking, and my mind was racing.  I realized life was about to change.

     For a year, I had been dealing with strange, visual disturbances that are often associated with migraines or epilepsy.  When I hung up the phone, it dawned on me that I had probably been ignoring the symptoms of brain cancer all along.  By now, the cancer had probably spread everywhere.

     A battery of imaginations raced into my mind – my widowed wife, radiation, hair loss, sick leave, scars, needles, life insurance, and being too weak to lift small objects (like my baby girl).

     After panicking for 30 minutes, I called and left an urgent message for my wife’s uncle, an oncologist at the same clinic as my neurologist.  Perhaps he knew the oncologist who was reviewing my case – I hoped he might even be the one treating me.

     The only prayer I could muster was, “God, maybe I don’t have much faith, and I’m sorry.  But I’m scared.  Amen.” Then I stared at my desk, waiting for the neurologist to call back and break the news.

     My wife’s uncle got back to me first, and I nervously explained that my neurologist wanted me to speak with an oncologist at his clinic.  I asked him if he knew what this was about or which oncologist would be handling my case.  He chuckled.

     “Joshua, you’re going to be meeting with me.  You said you wanted to keep me in the loop about your MRI, so he invited me to be there with you.  You don’t have cancer.  This was just a really unfortunate miscommunication.”

     I burst into nervous laughter.  “Oh my gosh,” I said.  “I thought I was going to die.  What a relief.”

     But I wasn’t quite relieved.  My medical fire drill had left me unnerved – not for my health, but for my faith.

     In the hour-and-a-half I had to contemplate the end of my life, I was a hopeless, faithless wreck.  The most positive thought I had come up with during the whole ordeal was, “Well, if I make it another year, at least I’ll die at 33 – just like Jesus.”

     Whatever.

     How I had changed since childhood.  Back then, I saw death as a door that opened into the arms of Jesus, the watchful shepherd pictured in My Jesus Pocketbook of the 23rd Psalm.

     Heaven was a place where I would see my brother and sister, who had died when I was a toddler.  There would be no fences or chicken pox or thorns – only flying, singing, laughing, and running without ever getting tired.  When my dad vividly described Heaven to me one night, I got so excited that I leapt around the living room, literally trying to jump out of my skin and up into Heaven.

     But a couple of decades later, I had grown up, and Jesus’ promise of a home in the afterlife had all but faded, packed away in the attic with colorful children’s books and board games.  With nothing to hope for but the things I could see, death meant the loss of everything.

     The day after my medical mix-up, I went on a camping trip with some friends and, while building the fire, I had time to talk to God about my faithless meltdown.  As I prayed, I realized that during my crazed fit of fear, I hadn’t thought of Heaven once.  In fact, I realized that, as a general matter, I rarely thought of it at all.

     “God,” I said, “I hate to admit it, but I think I’ve forgotten how to hope for Heaven.  Can You please bring that hope alive in me again?”

     The next morning, we had a little church service in the woods, and my friend Randy asked me to lead us in some songs.  I led the group in a few hymns and choruses, and then I uncharacteristically decided to end with the old Sunday School song, “Jesus Loves Me.”

     A couple of lines into the song, I felt an unexpected, childlike innocence stirring inside, overwhelming me.  I quickly became too choked-up to do anything more than mouth the words to the song and brush away my tears.  When we finished the song, Randy said, “Is there a second verse?”

     “Yeah,” I said, wiping my nose with my sleeve, “But I’m not sure I could sing it without falling apart.”

     I nonetheless went ahead and tried to sing the verse, barely uttering the line, “He will love me, He who died, Heaven’s gates to open wide.”  And as I sang the verse, I found myself up in the attic of my mind, dusting off my child-like belief that Jesus really is preparing a home for us (John 14:3).  My heart followed, reaching upward, responding to my longing for an eternal home.

     It wasn’t that I had shaken all my fears of death or had a heavenly epiphany that would last a lifetime.  But sharing my doubts with God and singing to Him like a child was awakening something in me that I had forgotten.  He had answered my prayer – my hope for Heaven, for a life that would complete and surpass all I knew here, was coming alive again.

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

II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

John 14:1-3  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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

Lord Jesus, when our brief time on earth is ended, take us unto Thee, for we are Thine and Thou art ours, and we long to be with Thee.  Here on earth let our small service be a part of Thy great work in this world; and then, at the last, receive us into Thy Kingdom.  Amen.

–Philip Melancthon  (1497-1560), German reformer

1828) Shallow and Cheesy Christianity

Related image

Fred Rogers  (1928-2003)

————–

By Joshua Rogers (no relation to Fred), posted April, 4, 2018 at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

     One time I was talking to a friend and she mentioned that when she first started following Jesus, the Lord greatly used sermons from a certain TV preacher to help her grow in her faith.  Personally, I wasn’t impressed with the televangelist.

     Granted, I hadn’t actually listened to any of the preacher’s sermons, but that was beside the point.  Everybody in my circle agreed that the preaching was little more than motivational speaking with scriptures thrown in.

     After my friend mentioned that she still listened to the preacher, I shared my negative opinion (again, recall that I hadn’t actually listened to any of this person’s sermons).  I didn’t anticipate the consequences of what I said.

     My friend tried to defend the preacher at first but then she let it go.  I could sense her disappointment: Maybe those sermons aren’t so great after all.  After that, she stopped listening to the televangelist and I was quite proud of myself for pushing her to do so.

     As time went by, my impact on her reminded me of this one time I had a song that God had used to show me how much He loved me.  I had listened to it over and over again, and it never got old.  One day I decided to play it for a friend who listened to it for 30 seconds before dismissing it as Christian contemporary garbage.  I still liked the song, but I never appreciated it the same way again.  Maybe it wasn’t that great after all.

     I’m afraid I did that to my friend who was so blessed by the TV preacher — and for what?

     Fred Rogers of the legendary children’s show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood tells the story of another preacher who left him unimpressed:

I remember so keenly one of the times I learned how individually the Spirit can work.  It was years ago, and my wife and I were worshiping in a little church with friends of ours, another husband and wife.  We were on vacation, and I was in the middle of my homiletics course at the time.

During the sermon I kept ticking off every mistake I thought the preacher — he must have been 80 years old — was making.  When this interminable sermon finally ended, I turned to my friend, intending to say something critical about the sermon.  I stopped myself when I saw the tears running down her face.

She whispered to me, ‘He said exactly what I needed to hear.’  That was a seminal experience for me.  I was judging and she was needing, and the Holy Spirit responded to need, not to judgment.

     I hate to admit the number of times I’ve put down certain Christian books, preachers, movies, or music that I deemed too shallow, too cheesy, or not quite in line with the finer points of my theology.  I don’t recall ever feeling the Holy Spirit move through me in power when I was doing that.  Instead, I usually just felt a strong sense of smugness.

     Scripture tells us, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29). It also tells us to “let all things be done for building up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

     I believe that we should humbly call out toxic ministries and frauds.  But it’s hard to see how I’m building up anyone by putting down Christian ministry that leaves me unimpressed.  Who am I to evaluate someone else’s offering?

     We ought to tread very lightly when taking on critical attitudes towards other believers and their attempts to build others.  The Holy Spirit may be responding to someone else’s need, and if so, we will inevitably grieve Him with our judgment.

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

Ephesians 4:29-30a  —  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

I Corinthians 14:26  —  What then shall we say, brothers and sisters?  When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

I Thessalonians 5:11-13  —  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.  Live in peace with each other.

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

AN IRISH BLESSING:

Always remember to forget
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember
The things that made you glad.

Always remember to forget
The friends that proved untrue.
But never forget to remember
Those that have stuck by you.

Always remember to forget
The troubles that passed away.
But never forget to remember
The blessings that come each day.

1827) An Eye for an Eye? Good Idea!

(watch the video or read the transcript below; verses and prayer follow)

By Dennis Prager, posted April 2, 2018, at:  http://www.prageru.com

——————

     Even atheists acknowledge that the book that is most responsible for creating Western civilization is the Bible. 

     Until very recently, that was considered quite an achievement.

     After all, it was Western civilization that created societies rooted in individual liberty, rooted in democracy, that affirmed the equality of all people, and which gave the world the notion of universal human rights. 

     Of course, these unique moral ideals took centuries to be realized, and the ideals were often violated.  But only the West formulated these ideals, let alone achieved them — and then spread them around the world.

     In the last half century, however, many of the recipients of these gifts — especially the well-educated — no longer regarded Western civilization as morally superior to any other.   And as reverence for Western civilization fell, so did reverence for the source of that civilization.

     The Bible has not only been neglected, but reviled — as a foolish fairy tale at best, and as an immoral work at worst.  This view springs not from intellectual rigor, but from intellectual laziness. 

     People throw out all sorts of objections to the Bible as if there are no rational and moral responses to those objections.  But the fact is there are rational and moral responses to all those objections. 

     I give many of them in my book, The Rational Bible, but let me offer two here. 

     In the biblical book of Deuteronomy, it says if someone has a rebellious  son  who does not obey his father and mother, his parents can take him to the elders of the city for judgment.  And if the son is found guilty, the citizens are to stone him to death.

     Sounds pretty primitive, doesn’t it?

     In fact, however, it was an enormous moral leap forward.  This law ended — forever — parental ownership of their children, and with it the right to kill them.  The brilliance of this law was that it seemed to preserve the absolute authority of parents, but in fact ended it.

     But, you will respond, the citizens of the city could still kill the child.  Theoretically, that was true.  But we have no instance of it ever happening in the history of the Jews — the people who brought the book into the world and lived by its rules.

     Critics of Western religion also often cite the famous biblical law, “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,” etc. as another example of an immoral biblical law.

     But this law — known by its Latin name, lex talionis, the law of retaliation — was another great moral advance.  It was not meant to be taken literally, and it never was — for the simple reason that it’s impossible to exactly duplicate bodily harm.  Only “a life for a life” was meant literally and taken literally: there is capital punishment for premeditated murder. 

     So, then, what did it mean?

     For one thing, lex talionis is the ultimate statement of human equality.  Every person’s eye is as precious as anyone else’s.  The eye of a prince is worth no more than the eye of a peasant.  This was completely new in history.  The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, for example, legislated that the eye of a noble was of much greater value than the eye of a commoner. 

     Second, the principle of “an eye for an eye” ensured only the guilty party was punished for his crime.  In other law codes and in common practice, if you killed someone’s daughter, your daughter would be killed.  That was expressly prohibited in the Bible and by the “eye for an eye” code.  Now the killer would be punished, not the killer’s daughter.

     Third, lex talionis prohibited unjust revenge.  In the ancient world, if a man gouged out another man’s eye, the victim, if he could, would gouge out both the attacker’s eyes, or kill him, or hurt his children, and so on.  In contrast, “eye for an eye” ensured the victim receive appropriate compensation for the damages he suffered, but the punishment had to fit the crime.

      The next time you read or hear someone argue that the Bible is irrational or immoral, tell them how the stone-the-rebellious-son law ended parental killing of children and how the “eye for an eye” law struck a unique blow for human equality and justice.

     If they’re intellectually honest, they’ll admit that they have learned something new. 

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

Leviticus 24:17-22  —  “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.  Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life.   Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner:  fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.  The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.  Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death.  you are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born.  I am the Lord your God.’”

Matthew 5:38-44  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.  And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.  Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.  You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

—————-

ADDITIONAL IMPORTANT NOTE:  ‘Eye for an eye’ was a good idea, but not the best:

The ‘eye for an eye’ morality in the Old Testament was a great step forward for civilization.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 above), Jesus moves us far beyond that.  While the government still must maintain the essential right to restrain the evil-doer (Romans 13), Jesus tells us to love, forgive, pray for, and even help our enemies.  This led Gandhi, who was deeply influenced by Jesus, to put that truth in a well-known modern quote:  “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”

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

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.  –Martin Luther

1826) Don’t Get Stoned (part three of three)

Image result for resurrection images 

     (…continued)  From that central truth of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, everything else follows.  Jesus said we are sinners, and so we are.  Jesus said he died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins, and so we believe that, even if we don’t completely understand how all that works.  Jesus said we should believe in him and then we are saved for all eternity, and so we do.  Jesus said we should be baptized, and so we are.  Jesus said we should take and eat the bread and wine in remembrance of him, and so we do.  Even before Jesus came to earth, God’s Word said we should “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it Holy,” and Jesus did that when he was on earth, and so we also worship together.  And Jesus said we should hear his word, confess our faith, and pray the Lord’s Prayer, and so that is what we do in worship each week.

     Even Jesus died with an unanswered question on his lips, saying “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”  There was no answer, but still Jesus died also with a prayer, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”  If Jesus can live and die with unanswered questions, we can too.  In the meantime, feel free to ask about or look into what troubles you, learn what you can, live with the mystery that remains, and keep the faith.  “We walk by faith, not by sight,” says II Corinthians 5:7.  We are among those of whom Jesus spoke in John 20:29:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

   I knew a man whose doubts caused him to lose his faith right at the end of his life.  This farmer and his wife raised their children in the church.  Every week they all worshiped with their neighbors in their little country church.  The kids all grew up, married, and moved on.  Then the man’s wife died, and still he went to church every Sunday.  And then this old man read an article in one of the national news magazinesTime and Newsweek seem to take turns each year around Easter, publishing cover stories about what they think really happened on Easter Sunday, which always turns out to be nothing out of the ordinary, according to them.  They get a few quotes, pro and con, but you always know from the beginning where they are going to end up, and that is to deny the truth of the resurrection.  It is not any sort of a responsible, in-depth treatment of the historical documents or the academic or theological debate.  It is just outright, anti-Christian propaganda.

     This man had a simple faith and was not familiar with the powerful arguments for the historical truth of the New Testament accounts of the resurrection.  Therefore, his faith was destroyed by this preposterous article with its shallow treatment of this most important event in human history.  He quit going to church and died without the hope of the resurrection that he had believed in his whole life.  The article raised questions in his mind, and he thought it spoke the truth.  He did not take the time to ‘question his questions’ or ‘doubt his doubts,’ and he quit going to the place where he might have heard something that could have deepened his simple faith before he abandoned it.  That is a sad story.

     Thomas had his doubts, but he kept in touch.  He kept gathering with the others, and there was given the opportunity to get his faith back.  Then he heard for himself the words of his risen Lord; “Peace be with you.”

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

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

John 20:26-29  —  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them.  Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it into my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”  Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Jude 1:22  —   Be merciful to those who doubt.

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

Lord, I do believe.  Help me overcome my unbelief.

–Mark 9:24