1896) Are We Crazy, Or What?

15 Stats That Show Americans Are Drowning in 'Stuff'

By Daniel Lattier, posted February 2, 2016 athttp://www.intellectualtakeout.org

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     Getting kids to clean up after themselves is a rather unpleasant, ongoing struggle for many parents today.  If one’s kids are messy, it’s typically assumed that it’s because of a lack of parental will, i.e., that the parents’ failed to discipline their children.

     I wouldn’t want to let parents completely off the hook here, but I will say that we often ignore contextual factors that also work against keeping a clean house, such as the busyness of modern life and… the fact that we simply own a lot more stuff than people in the past.

     In America, many people spend a good portion of their free time accumulating possessions, and the rest of that time attempting to clean up those same possessions.  Those with children spend many frustrating hours trying to coax their children to do the same.

     Here are 15 stats gathered by Joshua Becker for Becoming Minimalist that help confirm the suspicion that Americans simply own too much stuff:

1. There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times).

2. The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in size over the past 50 years (NPR).

3. Still, 1 out of every 10 Americans rent offsite storage—the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the past four decades. (New York Times Magazine).

4. While 25% of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them and 32% only have room for one vehicle. (U.S. Department of Energy).

5. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks.  Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation.  Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing (SSA).

6. British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily (The Telegraph).

7. 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA).

8. The average American woman owns 30 outfits—one for every day of the month.  In 1930, that figure was nine (Forbes).

9. The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually (Forbes).

10. The average American throws away 65 pounds of clothing per year (Huffington Post).

11. Some reports indicate we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago (The Story of Stuff).

12. Currently, the 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe account for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent (Worldwatch Institute).

13. Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches ($100 billion) than on higher education (Psychology Today).

14. Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items.  The research found we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime.  Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list (The Daily Mail).

15. Americans spend $1.2 trillion annually on nonessential goods—in other words, items they do not need (The Wall Street Journal).

     As it has been said: we don’t possess things; they end up possessing us.  Again, discipline and consistency on the part of parents are certainly needed when it comes to bringing up tidy children.  But just as children become easily overwhelmed by too many toys, so also the same applies when they are confronted with a huge mess and told to “clean up.”

     Raising children is difficult enough, and parents probably don’t need clutter working against them in this task.  If they want tidy children, it’s better if they own less stuff.

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Luke 3:10-11  —  “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

Matthew 19:21-22  —  Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”  When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

John 12:15  —  (Jesus) said to them, “Watch out!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

I John 3:17  —  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

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Almighty God, judge of us all, you have placed in our hands the wealth we call our own.  Give us such wisdom by your Spirit that our possessions may not be a curse in our lives, but an instrument for blessing, through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.    

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House

1895) Enjoying What God Gives

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By Rick Warren, posted June 16, 2018, at:  http://www.pastorrick.org

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     The Bible says in 1 Timothy 6:17 that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment”(NIV).  That’s the kind of God we serve.  He gave us the world for our enjoyment!  But here’s the problem: We’re so busy getting more that we don’t enjoy what we’ve got.

     One of my favorite things to do is watch the sunrise from the slope in our yard.  I put a deck chair out there almost 20 years ago.  The chair was not expensive to start with, and now it is old.  It’s faded, and a couple of its slats are broken.  I love to sit in that ratty, old chair and watch the sun come up.  It gives me great pleasure!

     Would I have any more joy watching the sunrise if I were sitting in a diamond-encrusted Barcalounger instead of that ratty old chair?  No.  It would not increase my joy one bit.  In fact, there is an advantage to not having a diamond-encrusted Barcalounger.  It’s better to have a ratty chair on the slope.  Why?  Because nobody steals it!

     You need to ask yourself, “What am I not enjoying right now?”  Most of us get into what I call “when and then” thinking — “When this happens, then I’ll be happy.”   “When I get a boyfriend, then I’ll be happy.”  “When I get married, then I’ll be happy.”  “When I have kids, then I’ll be happy.”  “When my kids go off to school, then I’ll be happy.”  “When I get married again, then I’ll be happy.” 

     You are as happy as you choose to be.  Happiness is a choice!  If you’re not happy now, you’re not going to be happy later. 

     I could take you to some of the worst places in the world and show you two people living right next door to each other.  One is miserable, and one is happy.  Why?  Happiness has nothing to do with your circumstances.  It has everything to do with your attitude.  If you’re not happy living on what you’re living on right now, I can guarantee you that you’re not going to be happy with any more.  Because you’re always going to want a little bit more.

     Happiness is a choice.  Choose to enjoy what God has given you right now for your enjoyment!

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I Timothy 6:17  —  Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-19  —  Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.  This is meaningless.  As goods increase, so those who consume them.  And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?  The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much; but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.  I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:  wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit.  Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart.  They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.  This too is a grievous evil:  As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind?  All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.  This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.  Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.

Philippians 4:11b  —  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

I Timothy 6:6-12a  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness,faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith.  Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.

Hebrews 13:5-6  —   Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?”

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PROVERBS 30:7-9:

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

1894) A Simple Way to Pray (3/3)

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KYRIE ELEISON (Latin),  ‘Lord, Have Mercy’

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     (…continued)  The final phrase of this simple prayer is, “Lord, have mercy.”  Mercy is a wonderful word.  It is a word one who is weak and needs help will use in asking for assistance from one who is stronger and able to help.  This is a description our position before God.  It is as we used to sing in Sunday School: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, we are weak but He is strong.

     Mercy is a word we use in asking for undeserved favor or blessings.  Most certainly, anything we have already received from God has been freely given, and anything we could ever ask for from God is undeserved.  Therefore, ‘mercy’ is an appropriate word to use when coming into God’s presence.

     Near the beginning of every worship service, many congregations sing some form of the ‘Kyrie,’ a simple responsive reading that the church has used since the fourth century.  In our Lutheran hymnal, the pastor brings before the Lord several basic petitions, and the congregation, responds each time by singing a three sentence prayer, ‘Lord, have mercy.’  Lord, have mercy; or in other words: “Lord, I know I don’t deserve it, but give me a break.  Lord, the world is such a mess, have mercy on us all.  I don’t know what to do or where to turn anymore, so Lord, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy on the sick and the dying, on those who mourn, on those in despair on those facing natural disasters, on those persecuted for the faith, and on all of us.  Lord, have mercy.”

     This is a great way to end this wonderful little prayer.

     We don’t have to know what to tell God what to do in each and every situation.  How can we know what needs to be done?  We must acknowledge that we are willing to trust God to do what is best.  And then we just ask for his mercy.  This simple little prayer fits every situation:  “As you know, and as you will, Lord have mercy.”

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Isaiah 55:6-7  —  Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Matthew 15:21-22  —  Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!  My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Mark 10:46-47  —  Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Luke 17:11-13  —  On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee.  As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him.  Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

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As you know, and as you will, Lord have mercy.  Amen.

1893) A Simple Way to Pray (2/3)

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The Angelus 1858, Jean-Francois Millet  (1814-1875)

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     (…continued)  Another example of not knowing how to pray would be in the area of farming.  All farmers everywhere always hope for good weather and a good growing season and a good crop.  But also, all farmers everywhere know that if every farmer in the world has a good year every year, the prices would go so low that no one could afford to farm any more.  So how do they know what to pray for?  Should they be selfish and pray for good weather only for themselves, and for bad weather for enough of the others to keep the prices up high?  Or what?  It is best for them to just say their prayers and leave the results to God, like we all have to do anyway.  But then it is also best not to wonder too much why God doesn’t answer every pray for everyone every year.  If the specifics were up to us, we would never know what to pray for.

     I will give one more example.  We all want to be successful in whatever we do, and if we are Christians we will pray for such success.  And sometimes our prayers might get answered and sometimes not.  When I was in college I was trying to decide between a career in corrections and working with juvenile delinquents, or, going on to seminary and becoming a pastor.  I was, of course, praying for God’s guidance.  It is a big decision for a 20 year old, selecting a career for the rest of one’s life.  I was leaning towards corrections, had already done some school-related work in the area, and had some success.  Then I did a three month practicum at a juvenile detention center in northern Minnesota in hopes that my time there would really make up my mind.  I don’t remember for sure, but I suppose I prayed that all would go well and I would be successful there too.  But it did not go well and I was not successful.  Parts of it I enjoyed and I did a good job on some of my tasks.  But much of it I found extremely frustrating, and I had some embarrassing failures.  I suppose I could say that my prayer for success was not answered in the way I had hoped it would be.  But really, my prayers for guidance were answered completely, because I realized then that I was not well suited for that work, and made my decision to go to seminary.  I believe God has called me to be a pastor, even if it meant first letting me fail at something else.  The point is, sometimes we don’t even know what we should pray for.  At that time I was, without knowing it, praying for two different things– success and guidance; and a ‘No’ to one prayer was, at the same time, a clear and positive answer to my other prayer.

     I ran across an old prayer a while back that is a good prayer for any situation.  I have prayed it many times since I first read it.  It is a short prayer, and a useful prayer those times you don’t know what to do or even what to pray.  The prayer goes like this:

As You know, and as You will, Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

    That is all that is to it, but it is profound little prayer.

     Let’s look at that prayer phrase by phrase.  First of all, when we begin by saying “As You know,” we are admitting that the Lord knows more about the situation than we do.  We don’t have to know what to pray for.  We don’t have to figure out what should be done, and then instruct the Lord on the details.  God sees everything and knows everything, while our knowledge of and insight into any situation is not only severely limited, but also clouded by our emotions and prejudices.

     Secondly, we pray, “and as you will.”  That is a phrase we are already using in our prayers.  It is a part of the Lord’s Prayer, after all.  “Thy will be done,” we pray, as Jesus taught us to pray.  And, this phrase was also in Jesus’ own desperate prayer as he pleaded for help in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest and death on the cross.  Jesus prayed that right after pouring his heart out to God and expressing his very human apprehensions about the suffering that was ahead of him, including even his request that he may yet somehow avoid it all.  And then, Jesus ended his prayer by saying, “Not my will, but thine be done, Oh Lord.”

     We, too, can certainly ask God for whatever we want.  We don’t have to make sure we are asking for the right thing.  In our pain and emotion and desperation we can pray in any way for anything we think might help.  Just like parents want their children to feel like they can tell them anything, God wants us to tell him whatever is on our mind and even ask for whatever we want.  But then when we are all done, we must leave it in God’s hands, trusting Him to sort it all out, and let Him do or not do what He thinks is best.  We say our prayers, and then we say, “Thy will be done,” leaving it all in God’s hands.  Or, in the words of this little prayer, “As you know, and as you will…”  (continued…)

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Matthew 6:10  —  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Matthew 26:39  —  Going a little farther, Jesus fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

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As You know, and as You will, Lord, have mercy.  Amen.

1892) A Simple Way to Pray (1/3)

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     One evening, years ago, I went outside to drive the car into the old garage next to our house.  It was one coldest and windiest nights of that winter, but I hadn’t put on a cap or gloves because I was going to be out there for only a minute.  I was moving fast so I could get back into the warm house.  But when I opened the door and turned on the light, I saw something that made me slow down a bit.  A bird had flown into the open door behind me, and was flying around in the rafters.   I could tell that the little bird was afraid of me and was uncomfortable with me being in there with him, but it wasn’t about to go back outside into that cold wind.  So the little bird just flew around in circles, and then landed on a shelf not far away, keeping a close eye on me.  It was cold outside, and it was cold in the unheated, uninsulated garage.  So I felt sorry for that bird, and I would have liked to help him in some way.  But I did not know what to do.  The bird did not want to go outside, and I didn’t want to chase it outside.  But I knew if I left him in the shed, he would probably die.  The next day I did find him dead on the floor.  I know there were a lot of birds out in the cold that night and many of them probably died.  That’s nature’s way.  But that one was right there looking at me, and I would have helped him if I would have known how.  But I didn’t know of a single thing I could do.  I knew what was ahead for that bird, and I didn’t like it, but there was no way I could help.

     That’s the way it often is in life.  There is someone we’d like to help, but we just don’t know how.  Someone we love and care about is in a tough situation or in despair or headed for trouble, and we know it, but there’s nothing we can do.  If we knew what to do, we would do it, no matter what it took or how much it cost us; but we can’t see any way to do anything at all.  Even if we did have a good idea, and there was something we might be able to do, oftentimes the other person will have none of our meddling.  “I’m all right,” they’ll say, or “I can handle it,” or, “Just mind your own business;” just like that bird would have certainly flown away if I took even one step towards it.  That night, I just turned off the garage light, locked the door, went into the house,  I said to myself, “That is the way it goes in nature; it’s a tough world,” and I thought no more of it.

     But when it is our loved ones, we can’t do that, can we?  We hurt with them, and that hurt can go on day after day, week after week, even year after year.  It is a helpless sickening feeling, but one we all get our turn at having.

     Of course, we can pray.  You probably knew I was going to say that.  Pastors are always talking about prayer, and for good reason.  Our Lord commands us to pray, not only for help in our troubles, but also to give thanks for our blessings.  So, of course we can pray, and we are supposed to pray, and I hope you pray every day, for help in all your troubles and to give thanks for all your blessings.  But when it comes to praying about specific situations, even though I am a pastor, sometimes I don’t even know what to pray for.  Do you ever find yourself not knowing what to pray for?

   For example, when our children are small, we want everything to go well for them.  Who wants to see a little child suffer anything?  So we help them, we provide for them, we protect them, and we try to shield them from life’s bumps and bruises.  That’s what parents are supposed to do.  But we also know that if they never have to suffer anything, if they never go through any trouble or any pain, if they never have to struggle; they will never have the opportunity to build any emotional strength or endurance or character, and they won’t be very well prepared for life.  But we aren’t going to pray for trouble for them, are we?  At the same time, it is probably good that not every one of our prayers gets answered right away in just the way we want.  This raises all sorts of other questions about why some have to suffer so much– but that’s a topic for another time.  I’m just saying now that when it comes to prayer, oftentimes we don’t know what to pray for, and oftentimes with our kids, we have to sit and wonder about how best to help them.  Do we help more by taking away their struggle or by letting them deal with it?  Every situation is different, and the best prayer is probably to pray for wisdom.  We find ourselves inadequate to instruct God on the specifics.  (continued…)

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Luke 11:1a  —  One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray…”

Romans 8:26  —  …The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

Luke 18:1  —  Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.  Amen.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

1891) Faith and Changing Moods

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From C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:
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    Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come either way.
    That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue.  Unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.
     The first step is to recognize the fact that your moods change.  The next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day.  That is why daily prayers and religious readings and churchgoing are necessary parts of the Christian life.  We have to be continually reminded of what we believe.  Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind.  It must be fed.  And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?    
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Hebrews 2:1  —  We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 
I Timothy 4:7-8  —  Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly.  For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 
II Timothy 3:14-17  —  …Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 
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    Grant us, Lord, we beseech thee, not to mind earthly things, but to seek things heavenly; so that though we are set among scenes that pass away, our heart and affection may steadfastly cleave to the things that endure forever; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.             
–Leonine Sacramentary

1890) Garbage In, Garbage Out

By Rick Warren, posted June 13, 2018 at:  http://www.pastorrick.org

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     Our minds control everything else about us.  Our thoughts influence our feelings.  Our feelings impact our actions.

     What you think matters, because everything starts in the mind.  To be a responsible person, you have to control your thoughts.

     But let me relieve you of a little false guilt:  You’re not responsible for every stray thought that passes through your mind.  Stray thoughts enter our minds for a variety of reasons — conversations you hear by accident, things you see, stuff the devil puts in your mind, etc.

     You’re responsible for how you deal with those stray thoughts.  Martin Luther said it like this: “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

     God will hold you accountable for what you allow to enter your mind.

     I’m amazed by what some people watch — not to mention what they let their children watch.  Many true followers of Jesus spend their time watching trashy TV and listening to trashy radio.  They pay good money to see deviant behavior as entertainment.  People watching such shows have told me, “When I go see those kinds of things, it just doesn’t phase me.  It doesn’t bother me.  It doesn’t affect me.”

     But that’s just not true!

     Scientists have done study after study that says you never really forget any scene you see.  Even if you don’t consciously recall the scene, that idea will come right back to your mind — in living color — when something else stimulates the thought.

     In other words, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  What you put into your mind will inevitably bear fruit in your behavior and beliefs.  In fact, when trashy entertainment doesn’t bother you anymore, it’s a warning light that you’ve already passed the threshold.

     One of Satan’s greatest tricks for attracting you to sinful lifestyles is comedy.  That’s why on television or in movies, deviant behavior always starts in a comedic situation.  If Satan can get you laughing at something that is sinful, you’ve already lost the battle.

     Sin isn’t funny.  Sin put Jesus on the cross.

     What are you filling your brain with?

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Proverbs 15:14  —  The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on trash.

Philippians 4:8-9  —  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.

Galatians 5:13-26  —  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh: rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.  So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

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O Almighty Lord and everlasting God, we beseech thee to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that through thy most mighty protection, both here and forever, we may be preserved in body and soul, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

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1889) Longing for Death

When hope is but a pinhole of light in a wall of darkness, only Faith, Love, and Duty get me through a life of chronic pain.

By Devin Foley, posted June 11, 2018, at:  http://www.intellectualtakeout.org .  Foley is the co-founder and CEO of ‘Intellectual Takeout.’

5. Devin Foley

Devin Foley

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     For ten years now, I have suffered from chronic pain after ripping apart my abdominal wall, causing permanent nerve damage.  I generally keep it private, but in the face of the mounting despair and hopelessness in our society, I feel I ought to pull back the veil.

     One day I was fine, wrenching a toilet off its seal.  The next, I was in terrible pain accompanied by frequent dry-heaving.  While I have gotten control of the dry-heaving, I have not yet mastered the pain.

     This is my life:  Imagine a dagger thrust into your solar plexus.  Now imagine that dagger with you at every step of life, whether it be the mundane or the joyous.  Grinding, stabbing, endless pain.  Now imagine what it does to your emotions and mental psyche when each day you wake knowing the pain that lies before you.

     Believe me, you will long for death with such an affliction.  While I never considered myself suicidal (and still don’t), that doesn’t mean that in the darkest of times, when I could fight the pain no longer, I didn’t seriously ponder ending it all.  When you feel that death is your only relief, you have entered into a perilous mental and spiritual space.

     Some of us hide it better than others; some of us pull the trigger, some of us do not and will not.

     Last week saw the suicides of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and countless other Americans known only to family and friends.  As if to reinforce the growing despair, the CDC released a new report showing suicides are up 25 percent over the last few decades and that suicide is now the tenth most common cause of death among Americans.

     What has happened to us as a people?  How is it that in this time of social, technological, and political progress Americans seem to be so miserable and without hope?  Why is it that so many people who seem to have it all choose death over life?

     We have been told we are living at the pinnacle moment of human development.  We have been liberated from tradition, family, community, natural law, God’s law, Christianity, marriage, and all of the other relics of the past.  We are free to make ourselves into anything we desire, to live nearly any way we choose.  Look at our technology!  Look at our wealth!  Look at our power!

     And, yet, so many of us are filled with despair.  Why?

   Might it be that we are materially wealthy, but poor in spirit?  Might it be that the very things we’re told are holding us back from personal fulfillment are actually the very things we need in order to live a good life, to live a life at peace?

     As I reflect on those most difficult times, when hope was but a pinhole of light in a wall of darkness, I find that only Faith, Love, and Duty got me through.

    I am a Catholic, indeed I converted about five years into my affliction.  I know the many arguments against Catholicism as I used to be quite good at attacking it, nonetheless it is the thing that most helps me make sense of our mysterious world.

     One of the great gifts of the Catholic faith is how it helps one wrestle with unchosen suffering.  We post-modern men are quite good at suffering when we choose it.  We will suffer to lose weight, to prep for a marathon, and so on.  But we have very little tolerance for unchosen suffering, the kind that causes one to feel trapped in his own body, to feel imprisoned in a personal hell.

     Through Faith, I find meaning in the suffering.  I understand that I am caught up in the great drama of life and that we were never promised bliss in this life.  If I were to choose a life without my pain or one with it, I do believe that I would choose the pain, despite the suffering.  Through unchosen suffering and Faith, the old, prideful me has been ground to dust.  Like clay in the Potter’s hands, I am molded anew daily.  It isn’t for me to know why I am afflicted, it is for me to offer it up and allow it to make me a better person.

     Yet, even with Faith, I have found myself in the darkness, crying out for relief and none came.  How easy it would have been to end it all.  Enter Love and Duty.

     I have a beautiful wife and six incredible children.  I love them with all my being.  They are second only to my love of the Creator.  My father died when I was a child.  As such, I know how difficult it is for a single mom and fatherless children.  I have a duty to live for God and for my family.  When it comes to those darkest of times, it is as simple as that.  My affliction, my pain, does not excuse me from my roles as husband and father.  My family’s love helps sustain me, and I hope that my love and sacrifice will help sustain them.

     Perhaps you find yourself in the darkness or you know someone in the grips of despair.  Drugs and alcohol will only drown the problem for so long and ultimately exacerbate the affliction.  Same, too, for escaping into video games, music, Netflix, good food, or even work.  You can never run far enough from your demons.  At some point, you must confront them.

     Unfortunately, our post-modern society has not given you the tools to do so.  Our times have no answers for you, which is why so many are giving up and taking their lives.  To survive and thrive, you need what the world tells you to abandon.  You need spiritual nourishment.

     And for that, you will need to turn back to the wisdom of the past, to embrace those very things we are told to discard.  Life is hard, but it is worth living when you have a sense of your place and purpose, when you have hope.  Meaning is actually best found in those times of despair when everything seems meaningless — if you have the right tools and the willingness to see it.

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I Peter 4:12-13  —  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.

Romans 8:18  —  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

I Peter 5:10  —  The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast.

Revelation 21:4  —  (God) will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

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When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
in ev’ry high and stormy gale
my anchor holds within the veil. 
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

–Edward Mote, Baptist minister  (1797-1874)

1888) Sin is Like Getting Hit By a Bus

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By Karen Prior, professor of English at Liberty University, posted June 4, 2018 at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com

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     Sin is like getting hit by a bus.

     Surviving it requires the divine intervention of the Creator.  Even when it doesn’t kill you, it causes needless pain.  And we can’t get out of its horrible consequences on our own.

     I was away from home for work, on my way to a meeting and, having decided to walk the 20-minute distance on this beautiful, late spring morning, I lost my way.  I decided to turn back to my hotel and take a cab from there.

     I didn’t see the bus until it slammed against me.  According to the police report, I was thrown 15 or 20 feet into the air.  I don’t remember that flight or the landing that followed.  I remember coming to with a crowd of people around me and my whole body in excruciating pain.  I couldn’t see anything but the blood running from my head down my arm.  I could hear two women saying they were nurses and giving instructions to the other Samaritans who’d come to my aid.  I could hear a man who was holding my hand warmly and firmly and asking my name.  When I gave it, he just kept saying, “Karen, don’t lose consciousness.  Stay with us, Karen.”  I was in such pain that I couldn’t stop screaming.

     What remains in my memory most from those moments is the blood and the screaming and that man holding my hand.  He held it the entire time while I was placed onto the stretcher and into the back of the ambulance.  Just before the paramedics slid me all the way into that dark cave, he prayed for me.  All I could manage to say was, “God bless you.”  And I meant it.

     Sin is like this.

     Sin is like this in that, so often, it’s just a tiny step away from the standard.  A split second error in judgment.  A little thing, like paying too much attention to one thing and not enough to another.  A way we go amiss in the course of trying to do what’s right and good, just as I was on the day I got hit.

     Earlier that morning, the announcement had come that a long-revered, powerful leader in my church denomination had been removed from his post because of a long record of wrongs against women.  But at the same time, he’d also been given a generous retirement package and a title of honor.  Thousands of women in the denomination made a collective call to the leaders overseeing him—asking them to take a strong stand against such behavior.  Because I was at the forefront of that outcry, I had been doing interviews late the night before and early that morning.

     My focus was on doing right and calling others to do right, as well.  I wonder now if being focused on these things is what led me to get lost on my walk that morning.  Similarly, those in leadership (along with the rest of us) can, by focusing on one right thing, sacrifice countless other right things along the way.  But to neglect other goods in the service of one other good is sin.

     Sin is like this in that one small lapse can cause great damage.  The split second in which I did not see the bus resulted in the breaking of my body and the torment of physical and emotional pain—damage that will take months to heal.  Likewise, even small decisions by those in positions of power to look the other way, to fail to see or heed, can result in a multiplicity of brokenness in the church body—brokenness that, like the fractures in my body, must be tended to with great care, time, and skill in order to prevent deformity and malformation from setting in.

     Sin is like this in the way its consequences roll like a small snowball into a heaving avalanche.  The moment in which I failed to see the bus rendered profound costs for many other people: the members of the medical teams serving in the ambulance crew, emergency room, and the trauma unit; the other patients sharing space and resources in an overcrowded hospital; the witnesses to my accident; the family and friends whose lives are directly impacted by the care, concern, and service they offer now out of their love for me.  Even when the original error seems small and insignificant, sin’s toll is infinite.

     Sin is like this in that it’s terrifying to acknowledge that you might be the source of your own pain as well as the pain of others.  Sin is like this in that it’s easy, when facing this truth, to become entangled by self-pity, regret, and a sense of helplessness.

     And yet, the God of the universe doesn’t leave us alone in our own error.  He offers help in the form of people made in his likeness, whether they be strangers who reflect the image of God by intervening out of compassion or brothers and sisters in Christ who serve as his hands and feet in our time of need.

     God also intervenes through the person of Jesus Christ, who suffered on our behalf to remove our pain once and for all, not here on this old earth but in the new earth to come: a new earth where busy crosswalks will become streets of gold, where buses will be replaced by horse-drawn chariots, where medical personnel will make way for the Great Physician, and where every tear wrought by our own sin—and by those who have sinned against us—will be wiped away.

     But to ignore our sin, to refuse to repent of it once it has been pointed out to us, is as disastrous as ignoring a massive bus bearing down on us.

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Romans 6:23  —  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Galatians 6:7-8  —  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction;whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Proverbs 14:12  —  There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.

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God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  —  Luke 18:13b

1887) Finding Eternal Life on Death Row

By Pamela Perillo (1955- ), with John T. Thorngren, author of Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story, posted May 18, 2018, at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com

I Thought God Could Never Love a Convicted Murderer. I Was Wrong.

     I grew up in the 1960s in one of the many suburbs surrounding Los Angeles.  Seven of us, two adults and five children, struggled for living space in a tiny two-bedroom rental house.  My father worked on an assembly line during the day; my mother worked nights as a waitress.  Our family was hard-working, but the foundation was dysfunctional—a house built on sinking sand.

     Church, religion, and the Bible were unknown.  Mother was a pill-popper.  I don’t know what she took or where she got them, but she was always looking for sleeping pills when she came home in the morning and something to get her going when she left for work in the evening.  Whether down or up, she had a fiery temper and would spank us with whatever implement was handy.  I always felt that she cared the least for me.  I think that feeling was the lead domino in a spiraling loss of self-esteem.  One day, when I was nine, she abruptly ran off with the cook where she worked.  Perhaps she would have contacted us had it not been for a car wreck that ended her life shortly thereafter.

     Dad, who never had more than a social drink, rapidly found solace in alcohol.  One morning, I awoke to find him molesting me.  Eventually the police intervened, but he and my brothers were able to convince them that I was only having a bad dream.

     That was the proverbial last straw.  I felt isolated and unloved by a mother who had abandoned me, a father who had molested me, and siblings who seemed indifferent.  So at age ten I ran away from home, only to be picked up as a runaway.  For three years, my life was a vicious recurring cycle: running away from foster homes, being picked up like a stray dog, and being sent back to juvenile hall.  Altogether, I stayed in eight foster homes.  Some were nice, but you weren’t allowed to stay in those you liked because you might become too attached.  Most gave you food and water and little else.

     While I was in juvenile hall, I learned about drugs from some of the older girls.  “A great way to forget your problems,” they said.  This was the 1960s, and California was becoming a major narcotics hub.  Little was known about the dangers of drugs, and they were easy to obtain.  When I was high, my poor self-image disappeared.  I was one of the gang (my group of other users).  I was accepted.  I quickly had friends.

     At age 13, I met Sammy Perillo, who was 19.  We crossed the border into Mexico and married.  To get closer to Sammy and his drug of choice, heroin, I started shooting up.  Sammy and I had a beautiful little girl who died as an infant.  After he went to prison, I delivered his twins, but only one survived.  I never saw Sammy again.

     To support my habit and my son, I danced at a strip joint.  Needing money (addiction is not cheap), I teamed up with a man named Mike Briddle to rob one of its frequent customers.  Fleeing California with Mike and his wife, we hitchhiked to Houston, Texas, where we were picked up by a stranger needing help to move into his new house.  Mike noticed that the man had a roll of money.  High on PCP (also called angel dust), we murdered him and his friend and left for Colorado.

   Our trio stayed in a seedy hotel in Denver when I realized I could no longer withstand the emotional upheaval within, that little glow from a divine coal that was waiting to burst into flames.  I confessed to the police, and they extradited me to Texas, where I had been indicted in absentia for capital murder.  A swift trial followed, then a verdict of death by lethal injection.

     During my daily high in California, I had often said, “Let me die with a needle in my arm.”  Now it would come to pass.  My own words had condemned me.  While I waited in Houston to transfer to a women’s prison before my execution, a woman involved in prison ministry, came to visit.  This angel talked about Christ and his path to forgiveness.  I was receptive.  I was ready.  And I was eager to hear more.  Under her direction, I recited the sinner’s prayer.  After 24 years of being tossed about like a dry chunk of dirt, God poured in the waters of life and began molding me for his purpose.

     Many believers encounter Jesus in dramatic fashion, and they are changed instantly, like Saul on the Damascus Road.  For others, like me, salvation feels more like a process than a moment.  It takes time.

     When I first accepted Jesus, I felt a change, but I found it hard to believe the change was for real.  How could God ever forgive me for the horrible crime I had committed?  My mind said this could not be so.  My soul was in torment.

     After I was transferred to a prison in Huntsville, Texas, my angel from Houston still visited me.  She brought me a Bible, and to relieve my doubts she would frequently say, “Pam, you must forgive yourself.  To do otherwise is denying God’s grace and mercy.”  But she was also adamant that I confirm my salvation by using the gift of the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues—which I just couldn’t seem to do.  Once again, I felt dejected and unloved—even by God.

     The bed in my concrete cell was an iron slab cantilevered from the wall.  I crawled under it and pulled the covers down to the floor to form a tent.  Inside, I cried and begged God to allow me to speak in tongues, but all I could manage were inarticulate groans.  My tears covered the floor in puddles.   (For what it’s worth, I do not condemn this godly woman for her convictions on the gift of tongues.  In fact, she gave me the motivation to press on and continue studying the Bible, where I learned that the Holy Spirit bestows many other gifts.)

     It was only after a woman named Karla Faye Tucker (1959-1998) arrived on Texas Death Row that I grew to experience full confidence in my salvation.  I tried to lead her to Christ myself, but God meant it to come from another source: a prison puppet show performed by Teen Challenge, along with a free Bible.  Karla Faye’s redemption was dramatic, remarkable, and the subject of movies.  Her vocal commitment to Christ resounded throughout the world before her execution.  And her magnificent conversion was the spiritual cement I needed.  I knew then that in Christ, God can forgive anyone, no matter how severe their transgressions.

     Prison without Christ is probably as close to hell as one can come.  You are alone, spiritually empty, and consumed with hate.  But we Christians have a joy that provokes others to ask why.  Fortunately, the Texas prison system allows for church, Bible-study groups, and even a faith-based dorm developed in Karla Faye’s memory.  These meetings are open to everyone, and I have shared my testimony on many occasions.

     In 2000, I received welcome news:  My sentence had been reduced from death to life in prison.  And today, as I pray for parole after nearly 40 years of incarceration, I give thanks for how God was directing my path to salvation, even in my lowest moments—even as I made one terrible choice after another.  As grateful as I am to have escaped death row, I am a thousand times more grateful for the promise of eternal life.

(Pamela Perillo trains service dogs for disabled veterans through the Patriot PAWS’ program for prison inmates)

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

Psalm 51:10  —  Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

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Dear Lord Jesus, I feel my sins.  They bite and gnaw and terrify me.  Where shall I go?  I will look to you, Lord Jesus, and believe in you.  Although my faith is weak, I look to you and find assurance, for you have promised, “He that believes in me shall have everlasting life.”  My conscience is burdened and my sins make me tremble, but you have said:  “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven and I will raise you up on the last day and you shall have eternal life.”  I cannot do any of this for myself. I come to you for help.  Amen. 

–Martin Luther