1927) Useful Knowledge

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The Highland Ferryman, 1858, William Dyce  (1806-1864)

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A philosopher was being ferried across a big river in a small boat.  He asked the ferryman, “Do you know any philosophy?”

The ferryman replied, “No, I do not.”

“That is most unfortunate,” said the philosopher, “for that means you are missing out on a third of your life.”  Then said the philosopher, “Do you know any literature?”

“No, sir,” said the ferryman, “I do not even know how to read.”

“That is most unfortunate,” said the philosopher, “for that means you are missing out on two-thirds of your life.”

Just then, the boat hit a large rock and started to sink.  “Do you know how to swim?,” the ferryman asked the philosopher.

“No,” replied the philosopher.

“That is most unfortunate,” said the ferryman, “for that means you are going to miss out on all of the rest of your life.”

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     Knowledge is to be valued according to its usefulness.  It is ten thousand times more desirable to know how to order our hearts and lives, how to walk with God, and how to obtain everlasting life, than to know how to get riches and pleasures and vain glory in the present world.

     What good does it do a worldly and ungodly soul that will be lost forever to be able to discourse on “Cartesius’s Materia Subtilis,” or look at the planets through Galileo’s telescope; while he casts away all his hopes of heaven by his unbelief, preferring the pleasures of his flesh?  Will it comfort a man who is cast out of God’s presence and condemned to utter darkness to remember that he was once a good mathematician or musician, or that he had the wit to get riches and privileges in the world, or was able to climb to the height of honor and dominion?  It is a pitiful thing to see a man take pride in his wit and position, while he insanely rejects his only chance at true happiness; forsaking God, esteeming vanity, and damning his soul.  May the Lord deliver us from such wit and learning.

–Richard Baxter (1615-1691) (paraphrased)

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Luke 10:38-42  —  Now it came to pass, as they went, that he (Jesus) entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, “Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?  Bid her therefore that she help me.”

And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:  But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”   

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1 Corinthians 1:18-29  —  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

     Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?...  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

     Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

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My Lord and my God, take from me all that keeps me from you.

My Lord and my God, grant me all that leads me to you.

–Nicholas of Flue (also known as Brother Klaus), Patron Saint of Switzerland   (1417-1487)

1926) Plant a Seed

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By Rick Warren, July 18, 2018, at:  http://www.pastorrick.org

     What does a farmer do when he’s got a barren field that’s producing no income?  He doesn’t complain about it.  He doesn’t even have to pray about it.  He just goes out and starts planting some seed, because nothing is going to happen until he plants the seed.  He can pray all he wants, but it’s not going to produce a crop.  He’s got to plant some seed.

     Maybe you think you’re waiting on God.  You think you’re waiting on God for that job.  You think you’re waiting on God for a spouse.  You think you’re waiting on God for the windfall.  God says, “You think you’re waiting on me?  I’m waiting on you!  I’m waiting for you to plant a seed.”

     Everything in life starts as a seed: a relationship, a marriage, a business, a church.  And nothing happens until the seed is planted.

     Why does God require us to plant a seed?  Because planting is an act of faith.  You take what you’ve got, and you give it away.  That takes an act of faith!  And it brings glory to God.

     Jesus described this principle of sowing and reaping when he was trying to explain why he came to Earth to die on the cross.  In John 12:24 Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (NIV).  Jesus was saying, “People will be saved and go to heaven because of my death and Resurrection.  I’m going to plant a seed, and the seed is going to be my life.”

     Here’s the principle of sowing and reaping:  Whenever you have a need, you plant a seed.  Whatever it is you need — more time, more energy, more money, more support, more relationships, more wisdom — just plant a seed.  If you need more time, give more time to your kids.  If you need more money, give it away to someone who needs it.  If you need more wisdom, share what wisdom you have with others.  Give yourself away!

     It may not make sense to you to give away something that you need more of, but that is exactly the kind of attitude that God wants to bless and that will produce fruit in your life.  When you have a need, don’t gripe about it, don’t wish about it, and you don’t even have to pray about it — just plant a seed!

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John 12:24  —  (Jesus said), “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Mark 4:26-29  —  Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like.  A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

I Corinthians 15:37  —  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.

Matthew 16:24-26  —     Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

Galatians 6:7-10  —  Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.  So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

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

–John Wesley

1925) Who is the Real You?

By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

     We may begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness.  We begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are.  

     This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case.  When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed.  And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; and I was caught off my guard, I did not have time to collect myself.

     Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts:  they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.  On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he really is.  Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth (the real ‘me’).

     If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly.  But the suddenness does not create the rats:  it only prevents them from hiding.  In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.  The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

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Proverbs 14:29  —  Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.

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

Romans 7:15…24-25  —  I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Psalm 51:10  —  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

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Set a watch, O Lord,before my mouth, and keep the door of my lips.

Lord, keep my tongue from evil, and my lips that they speak no guile.

Treasury of Devotion

1924) How the Irish Saved Civilization

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By Philip Kosloski at:  www.catholicgentleman.net

     Modern historian and commentator Kenneth Clark said in his popular BBC show Civilization, “Western Christianity survived by clinging to places like Skellig Michael, a pinnacle of rock seven miles from the Irish coast, rising seven hundred feet out of the sea.”  It’s an intriguing claim, crediting the solitary monastery on Skellig Michael with a role in the survival of Western Christianity.

     Author Thomas Cahill broadens the connection to not only include Western Christianity, but “civilization” in his 1996 book “How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe.”

     How is it possible that a small monastic community at the edge of the world could have such a large impact in world affairs?

     Over a thousand years ago there lived a group of monks on an island seven miles off the coast of Ireland called “Skellig Michael” (an island recently made famous by Star Wars: The Last Jedi).  They were almost entirely cut off from the world and were (voluntarily) stranded on an island that was relatively small and treacherous to live on.

     It was a difficult life, but one they believed would bear much fruit.

     Along with a desire to go into the “desert” and contemplate God, the monks of Ireland held on to the concept of a “green martyrdom.”  The Catholic Church has always taught about the possibility of a “red martyrdom,” where one imitates Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross by dying for the sake of the Gospel.  Additionally, there was the belief that if a person wasn’t called to a red martyrdom, they could participate in the same sacrifice with a “white martyrdom,” where someone might endure ridicule for belief in the Gospel, but not suffer death.

     Early on, especially in Ireland, there developed a third martyrdom called a, “green martyrdom.”  An ancient Irish homily, written around the end of the seventh century, gives a perfect summary of this type of martyrdom:  “Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labor one frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance.”

     The Irish took hold of this type of martyrdom and, not surprisingly, sought out remote “green” places to live out this green martyrdom.  They wanted to be as severe as they could in fasting and penance, and so they preferred the harshest and remote places possible.

     The monks journeyed to Skellig Michael with full knowledge that for the rest of their lives, they would be battling against the “Dark Side” of this world.  They knew it would not be an easy fight and freely chose a life of self-denial, so they could defeat the power of Satan and clear the path to Eternal Life.

     These monks saw themselves as great spiritual warriors engaged in an epic battle against Satan and so they named the island (and church on it) after St. Michael the Archangel, the commander of the heavenly armies.

Preservation of Culture

     Besides leading a life of prayer and self-denial, the monks on this remote island (and many other Irish monasteries) sought to preserve culture at a time when Europe was in chaos.  The barbarian tribes had won the day and the glories of Rome ceased to exist.  These new leaders were not fond of Roman ways and sought to destroy anything associated the classical world.

     The classical way of education in particular was almost obliterated and those in Western Europe were more concerned about survival than enriching a flourishing culture.

     Except in Ireland.

     The Irish monks were masters of Latin and Greek culture and maintained it through the copying of manuscripts and the passing on of knowledge in various monastic schools throughout Ireland.  (While the barbarians were burning libraries and books all over Europe, these monks were collecting, copying, and preserving the written treasures of Christianity and Western Civilization.)

     It is in this context that the monastery at Skellig Michael was born, a “Golden Age” of Irish monasticism, where faith and culture was preserved for generations to come.

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Mark 8:34  —  Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Revelation 12:7  —  Then war broke out in heaven.  Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.

Acts 14:21-23  —  They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.  Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.  “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.  Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.

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The Lord give us peace in our going out and our coming in, in our lying down and in our rising up, in our labor and in our leisure, in our laughter and in our tears; until we come to stand before him on that day to which there is no sunset and no dawn, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

–Irish Blessing

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Pictures of Skellig Michael and the ruins of its monastery (approx. 8th -11th century):

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1923) Sometimes Miracles Get Complicated

Canaan Rogers

Canaan Rogers

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By Joshua Rogers, a writer and attorney who lives in Washington, D.C.  Rogers blogs at: http://www.JoshuaRogers.com

     My seven-month-old nephew Canaan was dying and nobody knew it, including his doctor, who had misdiagnosed his digestive issues.  The real issue was Hirschsprung’s disease, one of the leading causes of death for kids like Canaan, who has Down Syndrome.

     One afternoon, Canaan became totally listless — to the point of almost looking dead.  By the time my brother Caleb and his wife, Rebecca, got Canaan to the emergency room, his body had gone into septic shock.  Doctors and nurses scrambled to rescue him as someone quickly ushered Caleb and Rebecca into the waiting area.

     Right there in the emergency room, Rebecca did something remarkable.  She got down on her knees and said, “God, I’m going to worship You right now.  No matter what happens, You’re still holy.  You’re still good.”

     Four days after Canaan was admitted, a doctor sat down with Caleb and Rebecca and made it clear where things were headed: “Canaan is climbing a mountain that’s too high for him, and we’re just trying to make him comfortable at this point.”

     Nothing could be done to save him — or so it seemed.

     In the days before social media, we began a massive prayer movement with the help of an email that was forwarded around the world.  Hundreds of people joined our family in standing in faith for Canaan.

     A couple of days later, doctors reported that something unexplainable was happening: Canaan’s badly damaged small intestine was churning back to life.  His little body was making a comeback.

     It’s hard to convey the thrill of that news to everyone. There were cheers and celebratory emails going around, high-fives and hallelujahs.  But after we got our breakthrough, the miracle got complicated.

     Canaan gradually improved, but he still spent several weeks in the hospital.  Since then, he has been through countless surgeries, survived serious infections and still has significant digestive problems.

      Yes, he brings a great deal of love and joy to our family, but it comes with a heavy burden for him.

     Our miracle didn’t fix everything.

     Maybe you’re asking God for a miraculous intervention today.  He may very well provide it — a baby, a spouse, a job, a financial breakthrough or healing.  Until we get that miracle, it’s easy to think, “If I just get this one thing I’m asking for, I’ll know for sure that God is good.”

     Miracles do powerfully reveal God’s goodness, but then we have to keep on living everyday life, which is often full of disappointment and grief.

     We’re not alone in that though. “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered” (Hebrews 5:8).  If Jesus, the miracle maker, didn’t get a pass on suffering, we won’t either.

     Jesus said, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing Me.”  And in those lonesome hours when we can’t see Him, we’ve got to ask God for the gift of faith.

     Only God can give us the grace to believe when it seems like there’s no miracle to be found; but when He does, the result is truly miraculous.  We can, like my sister-in-law, bow down in the darkness and declare, “God, I’m going to worship You right now.  No matter what happens,  You’re still holy.  You’re still good.”

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Hebrews 5:8  —  Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.

John 20:29  —  Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Job 5:8-9  —  If I were you, I would appeal to God.  I would lay my cause before him.  He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.

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PSALM 77:1-14:

I cried out to God for help;
    I cried out to God to hear me.
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

I remembered you, God, and I groaned;
    I meditated, and my spirit grew faint.
You kept my eyes from closing;
    I was too troubled to speak.
I thought about the former days, the years of long ago;
I remembered my songs in the night.
    My heart meditated and my spirit asked:

“Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
    Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
    the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

13 Your ways, God, are holy.
    What god is as great as our God?
14 You are the God who performs miracles;
    you display your power among the peoples.

1922) Serving Jesus on the ‘B’ Team

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Tim Tebow’s Filed of Dreams:  Playing Ball, Serving Jesus, by Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie, at http://www.breakpoint.org , July 13, 2018

     Tim Tebow is one of the most beloved—and belittled—men to fasten his chin strap on a football field.  About a decade ago, Tebow helped the Florida Gators win two national championships with his vocal leadership and his rugged physical play.  He also picked up a Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football.  But there were always the naysayers, citing his awkward delivery or his run-first mentality, which “would never work in the pros.”

     Many of them, truth be told, despised Tebow’s unabashed Christian witness and pro-life beliefs—he wore eye black with a John 3:16 Bible reference, for instance—and his habit of kneeling to honor his Savior became a verb: “Tebowing.”

     Tebow, however, proved his critics wrong, taking the Denver Broncos on a miraculous run—in sports terms—of improbable, last-minute victories and a shocking overtime playoff win.  Then Tebow’s football fortunes changed again.

     A couple of years later, he was out of the league.

     But Tebow refused to give up and go away as his critics no doubt had hoped.  Instead, he continued using his platform as a major cultural figure to further his gospel witness.

     The Tim Tebow Foundation, for instance, sponsors an annual Night to Shine.  The most recent one provided 90,000 boys and girls with disabilities, who otherwise might be forgotten, with a prom night experience, centered on God’s love.  Some 537 churches with 175,000 volunteers in the U.S. and 16 other countries participated.  If you’ve never seen Tebow and ‘Night to Shine’ in action, watch this video (and grab a box of Kleenex):

< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRz2rWkMTnM&feature=youtu.be >

     A former doubter, David Ramsey of the Colorado Springs Gazette, calls Tebow “the rare athlete more about life off the field than on the field.  He’s one of America’s highest-profile—and most authentic and admirable — Christians.  Tebow isn’t one to talk all the time about his devotion to following Christ.  He’s too busy actually following Christ.”

     Well, he’s also back on the playing field—but this time the field is a baseball diamond.  Tebow has dusted off his bat and glove and has been toiling in the minor leagues, honing his swing and looking to earn his chance at being called up by my beloved New York Mets.

     No doubt the Mets know Tebow would boost attendance in New York, but Tebow is earning the opportunity, and even more amazing, silencing some of his critics.  He’s now playing for the Class Double-A Rumble Ponies in Binghamton, New York.  Tebow, wearing his iconic No. 15, earned a spot in the Eastern League All-Star game, where he went one for four with a double.

     Those who think Tebow has returned to pro sports for glamour and glory do not understand Tim Tebow.  Washington Post sports writer Barry Svrluga described Tebow interacting with baseball fans on a long, hot dusty day in Hagerstown, Maryland: “When Tebow arrived, [at the ballpark] he embraced anyone who approached.  He called people by name.  He took a picture with one kid, spun 180 degrees to take a picture with another, spun back and smiled for the next frame.  One girl held a sign adorned with her prom picture and sparkly words that read, ‘Thank you, Tim Tebow.  From Princess Sarah.  Night to Shine.’

     “You’re so welcome,” Tebow said time and time again.

In fact, the Mets staff had to drag Tebow away from the crowds so the team could start the seven-hour bus ride to the next game.

     “If I’m not remembered for baseball, that’s OK,” Tebow told People magazine.  “If I’m not remembered for football, that’s OK, too.  Actually, it’s fine if I’m not remembered at all.  What I want is to serve God by helping people who are less fortunate.  That’s what’s important, not playing a sport.”

See also:

All-Star Tim Tebow continues to play by his own standards 
Dan Wetzel | Yahoo Sports | July 11, 2018
 
This is what Tim Tebow mania looks like up close 
Michael Kaplan | New York Post | July 10, 2018
 
Tim Tebow is headed to Baseball Heaven … and the Mets 
David Ramsey | Gazette.com | July 5, 2018

 

http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/on-a-sunday-in-hagerstown-tim-tebow-is-a-major-star-living-a-decidely-minor-league-life/2017/06/04/1500ef88-4968-11e7-9669-250d0b15f83b_story.html?utm_term=.4bb6be79867c

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

I Corinthians 31b  —  Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

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O God, grant unto me such a knowledge of your will and trust in your grace that I may truly exemplify in my life the faith that I profess, so that others may see the light of Christ shining in what I say and do; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

–adapted from Service Book and Hymnal, Augsburg Publishing House, 1958, page 227

1921) House of Cards (3/3)

     (…continued)  Even C.S. Lewis—so brilliant and so wise in the faith—could be devastated to the point where he felt he had lost God.  Even Jeremiah—who at times spoke to God and heard God’s voice—could at times in this world feel lost and without God.  Certainly we too will have those times when God seems close and times when he seems far away.  We must learn to trust not our feelings but God’s Word in which we read of his promises.

     Christian philosopher and author Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) compared God’s Word to a letter you receive from a long-lost loved one.  For years you have not seen this person or even known if they were alive or dead.  Finally a letter comes, not in the mail, but hand-delivered by someone who saw someone who saw someone who saw your loved one.  The letter is faded and crumpled, and the writing is hard to read, but the signature is unmistakable.  Without a doubt, this letter is from your long lost loved one.

     What will you do?  Will you grumble and complain and say, “This is too hard to read” and throw the letter away?  Of course not.  Rather, you will receive that letter with great joy and hope and enthusiasm.  And then you will, with great care, take it to your desk and get the best light on it that you can.  You will then unfold it carefully, and no matter how long it would take, you would study and read and decipher and do all you can to make out every word.  You would not want to miss even one letter or punctuation mark.  You would want to understand all of it that you could, even though its information is limited and far less than you would hope for.  Then, imagine that the letter said your loved one wanted to meet you and gave you a time and place to meet.  Wouldn’t you read that part with the greatest expectation and care and make every effort to follow the instructions?

     That is what we have in the Bible.  It does not tell us everything we might want to know.  It is not always as clear as we might wish it to be.  But even so, how few struggle to understand all what God is telling us in His Word.  And though the Bible may not give us all the answers we want, it tells us everything we need to know for life and salvation.  Like the crumpled letter, it lets us know that someone who loves us is alive, and he’s always been here, and he’ll be coming again, and he wants us to meet him and be with him forever.  It is for us to read with great care and believe and follow instruction and respond.  It’s for us to pay attention.

     It is not for us to grumble about what we don’t know, or to complain that God seems absent.  The Bible says God is absent because he has chosen to be absent.  All too often people complain that God is absent, but at the same time, they ignore those ways God has chosen to be present and speak to us. God has chosen when and where to reveal himself, and what he will tell us about himself.  It is for us to receive with thanksgiving what we have been given and to believe it.

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Genesis 3:8a…9  —  Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day… (and) the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Genesis 3:23a  —  (Then) the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden…  (and from his visible presence)

Jeremiah 15:18  —  Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable?  You are to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails.

Ephesians 2:12-19 (parts)  —  Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.   But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…  He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.

II Corinthians 5:7  —  We live by faith, not by sight.

II Timothy 3:16  —  All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

1920) House of Cards (2/3)

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     (…continued)  In another passage from A Grief Observed (the book C.S. Lewis wrote after his wife died), Lewis describes how God seemed so far away, even absent, after his “house of cards” faith collapsed:

Meanwhile, where is God?  This is one of the most disquieting symptoms.  When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms.  But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find?  A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside.  After that, silence.

You may as well turn away.  The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.  There are no lights in the windows.  It might be an empty house.  Was it ever inhabited?  It seemed so once.  And that seeming was as strong as this.  What can this mean?  Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

I tried to put some of these thoughts to C. this afternoon.  He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’  I know.  Does that make it easier to understand?

     In the second chapter of Ephesians Paul describes our relationship with God by using words like far away, barrier, dividing wall, of hostility, foreigner, and aliens.  This is just what Lewis is describing, and we all know the feeling.  God can seem very far away, and not only that, it sometimes seems like he’s against us.  Certainly, as Paul says, there is a dividing wall, a barrier, between us.  Faith is never easy.  We don’t see God, and we often don’t understand him and his ways.

     The reasons for this go way back to Genesis (chapter 3), when Adam and Eve sinned and were sent out of the Garden of Eden.  Before that, God was right there with them; there was no distance, no separation.  They saw each other and talked freely.  But then, as a result of their sin, and now our sin, there is now the separation, and we cannot see clearly or understand fully.  It feels that way because it is that way—and God made it that way because of our sin.

     But God has not left us completely.  He has come to us again, reopening the lines of communication.  In the Old Testament God spoke his Word through the prophets and others.  Then, in Jesus, God came to us and spoke to us in person.  In the New Testament we have Jesus’ words and promises to read and hear and believe.

     After describing our distance from God in Ephesians 2, Paul says we have now been brought near to God through Jesus.  He is our peace and has made us one, reconciling us to God and destroying the barrier.  He ended the hostility and made peace.  Now, Paul says, we are no longer aliens and foreigners, but fellow citizens and even members of God’s household.

     We have been separated from God by our sin.  In Heaven we will be again with God in person.  But for now we are in an ‘in-between time’ and there will be this mixture.  Sometimes God will feel very close, and sometimes God will seem very far away.  We know those feelings.  That’s how it will be in this life—for us, for C.S. Lewis, and, for Jeremiah.

     Jeremiah was who one who, like C. S. Lewis, also felt these extremes of God’s distance and closeness.  He was one of God’s most important prophets, and God spoke to him often.  One time Jeremiah said he was sick of being God’s spokesman and wanted to quit; but, he said, “God’s word burned inside my bones and I could not keep it in– I had to speak.”  That’s how intensely Jeremiah could feel God’s presence— sometimes.  But other times God seemed hostile and far away.  Jeremiah once said he wished he had never been born, and shouted to God, “You are to me like a muddy stream.”   At that time, nothing was clear to Jeremiah, and the God he served seemed absent.

     In one sense, God is absent.  In our sin we say we want to do it our own way and ignore God.  So God said to Adam and Eve, and he says to us, “Okay, I’ll get out of your way.”  And God has removed his visible presence from this world.

     We don’t see God, but we do hear from him.  We have his Word, he has given us his promises, and at times we can feel his presence and care.  By his grace, he has chosen to keep in touch, to offer again his gifts, to come to us in Jesus.  And to all who will receive him and believe him, he grants eternal life in his eternal home.

      But it’s not all clear yet. “We walk by faith, not by sight,” says the Bible.  And is kept alive by keeping in touch, by worshiping, by prayer, by not saying no to God and ignoring him.  Then faith can grow and God can seem closer. 

     Later on in A Grief Observed, Lewis describes how he again began to feel God’s care and presence:

I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted.  Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face?  The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it.  You are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs.  Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.

     (continued…)

1919) House of Cards (1/3)

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     Shadowlands is a 1993 British film that tells the story of the doomed love affair between the 20th century’s most popular Christian author (and my favorite) C. S. Lewis, and Joy Gresham, a divorced American poet.  The movie contains no car crashes, shootings, nudity, or crude language, so it was not a huge money maker at the box office.  But it was more successful than many people thought it would be, and those who did see it, liked it.  The Rotten Tomatoes website ‘Tomatometer’ indicates a 97% approval rating by the critics, citing the great performances by Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.   

     The story behind the film was true—but not all that exciting.  C.S. Lewis was an English intellectual who did not lead a very exciting life.  He taught, read, wrote, and debated.  He hardly ever travelled, and for excitement he went for walks.  That’s about it.  He wrote some incredible books and articles, but his life did not appear to have the potential for a major motion picture.

     The movie tells the story of his brief marriage, and even that was more odd than exciting.  Lewis was a bachelor until he was 57 years old, and then he married a women he did not love.  Joy Gresham was a close friend, but Lewis was not at that point interested in love or marriage; he married her only as a favor to her in a practical matter.  Gresham was an American citizen and wanted to stay living in England with her two boys.  However, she was having trouble extending her residence permit and was going to have to leave the country.  By marrying an English citizen, she could stay as long as she wanted.

     So they were married at the court house—‘technically,’ Lewis insisted.  They remained friends, but stayed living at their own separate places.  The odd part was, all Lewis’ friends gossiped about Lewis and Joy being not married but having an affair, and all the while they in fact were married, and not doing anything at all.  This is not how things usually go in the movies.

     Anyway, after about a year of this odd arrangement, Joy was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Lewis, by this time, had begun to fall in love with her.  She had always loved him.  So Lewis asked her to marry him in the eyes of God, and not just ‘technically.’  She said yes, and they were married again; in the hospital because she was dying, but now publicly and by the Church.

     Then Joy’s cancer miraculously went into remission for a while, and for two years they lived together as husband and wife, and grew very close.  Then the cancer returned, Joy died, and C.S. Lewis was devastated.

     C.S. Lewis was at this time a professor of literature at Cambridge University.  Since becoming a Christian in his early 30’s, Lewis applied his towering intellect to explaining and defending the Christian faith.  It was this aspect of C.S. Lewis that gives the story another interesting twist.

     You see, it is not uncommon for people to ask, “Where is God?” when tragedy strikes.  When one is in deepest sorrow and grief, it is quite common for God to seem far away and uncaring.  These are the emotions that C.S. Lewis deals with in Shadowlands, and that, I suspect, is why the movie was so well-received by so many people, whether or not they were Christians.  The feelings and questions are some we all have had at one time or another.  The questions in C.S. Lewis’ life were especially significant for him because in the 30 years before that he had spent so much time answering the difficult questions and explaining the mysteries of the faith.  But now the questions and doubts hit him personally like a ton of bricks.  Lewis struggled intensely and he now had no answers.

     C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he was 33 years old.  Then, after an intense emotional and intellectual search and struggle, he became a Christian.  In the academic community where he worked, many of his friends remained atheists, and they could not imagine Lewis becoming a Christian.  He therefore had many challenges to his faith and spent much time defending it.  He did so with such intellectual power and eloquence that his debates turned into books, which turned into best-sellers.   Most of his books are still best-sellers, 55 years after his death.

     One of Lewis’s early books was called The Problem of Pain.  In this book he deals with the problem of suffering, and how a loving God can allow such pain in his world.  This kind of defense of the faith is called a ‘theodicy’ and this is one of the best theodicies ever written.  It is logical, biblical, persuasive, challenging, and well written.  When reading it, one can even begin to think they fully understand this great mystery.  And the book certainly does help, giving us some helpful handles.  But complete understanding of this mystery is beyond our limited understanding.   That is what C.S. Lewis found out when his wife died.  This logical, intellectual giant who had all the answers, was emotionally devastated by his personal grief.  He found himself hanging onto his faith by a thread.  God, who at one time seemed so close, now seemed very far away.  During this time he wrote another book called A Grief Observed, in which he writes of this struggle to believe again.

     Lewis did survive, and his faith endured.  In fact, some of his best work was done after this crisis.  (The movie, sad to say, doesn’t make this as clear as it should.)  But the questions raised and the grief Lewis faced are, at one time or another, faced by us all. And Lewis’ story provides an opportunity for us to think about these things.  (continued…)

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   From A Grief Observed by C.  S. Lewis:

     “Feelings, and feelings, and feelings.  Let me try thinking instead.  From the rational point of view, what new factor has (Joy’s) death introduced into the problem of the universe?  What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe?  I knew already that these things, and worse, happened daily.  I would have said that I had taken them into account.  I had been warned – I had warned myself – not to reckon on worldly happiness.  We were even promised sufferings.  They were part of the program.  We were even told ‘Blessed are they that mourn’ and I accepted it.  I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for.  Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.  Yes; but should it, for a sane man, make quite such a difference as this?  No.  And it wouldn’t for a man whose faith had been real faith and whose concern for other people’s sorrows had been real concern . The case is too plain.  If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.  The faith which ‘took these things into account’ was not faith but imagination.  The taking them into account was not real sympathy.  If I had really cared, as I thought I did, about the sorrows of the world, I should not have been so overwhelmed when my own sorrow came.  It has been an imaginary faith playing with innocuous counters labelled ‘Illness’, ‘Pain’, ‘Death’ and ‘Loneliness’.  I thought I trusted the rope until it mattered to me whether it would bear me.  Now it matters, and I find I didn’t.”

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1918) Saving Every Moment

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By Greg Morse, posted July 10, 2018 at:  http://www.desiringGod.org

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     With the touch of a button, we can memorialize our kids on their first day of school.  We can record the laughter from the Ferris wheel on our first date.  We can hear his corny joke over and over, seeing that weathered face one last time with every push of play.  Life is a vapor, and God has gifted this generation with the ability to seize our little mist like never before.

     But with all good gifts handled by fallen man, it can become misused.  The photo can become prized above the moment it captures.  Who doesn’t feel pressure to keep the phone within reach to catch special moments as they come?  Each of us is tempted, like none who came before us, to live-stream our life but forget to live.

     By all means, enjoy taking souvenirs from the past.  But when stockpiling and photo-taking becomes compulsive, when we start living for the next uploadable Instagram, when we can no longer enjoy unrecorded beauty, then, we have become memory hoarders.  We miss precious moments not because we didn’t have our phones, but because we did.  Like kids texting at the dinner table, we forgot to look special moments in the eye.  We pass on the first take of life in favor of a later viewing, trading the real for the replica, and in so doing, counterfeiting our joy.

     Our camera-usage reveals three crucial truths about us.

  1. We Fear Death

   Memory hoarding reveals what we all already know but rarely consider: life is fleeting.  “Here today, gone tomorrow” terrifies us.  It was just yesterday we attended sleepovers and played outside at recess.

     We dread death, and this fear subjects us to “lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15).  The grave beckons, the walls close in, and fear besets us as we await the grim reaper.  And as the shadow prowls in the dark, we attempt to squeeze as much life from the peel as we can, while we can.

     One way memory-hoarding attempts this is by documenting every passing moment worth remembering.  We try to keep the portal open to the past so that we might travel back and forth, eating the best of both seasons’ harvest.  The brevity of life makes it too small a thing to enjoy moments only once.

     But our panic often backfires.  Our incessant filming often disrupts the very moments we attempt to capture.  To record our children playing, we stop playing with our children.

  1. We Seek Immortality

 I talked to a dead man recently.  He had not updated his profile in some time.  I found out a week ago he has been dead for as long.  The incident struck me as bizarre.  Funny quips hung on his wall.  He smiled in his profile pic.  His personality and image were in pristine condition.  His life’s work stood a click away.  He, as many of us hope to be, was embalmed on the Internet. Though he died, he lives.

     Collecting memories, at its most relaxed, is an attempt to savor the best wine life offers.  At its most frantic, it is a shot at immortality.  If science has not cured death, at least technology can prolong our image, our thoughts, and our names on the World Wide Web.  Some of us use our phones, not so much as a portal to the past, but as a portal to a limitless audience.  And like an actor with a part too small for his liking, we spend a lifetime sashaying across social media, drawing as much attention as possible, before being forced to exit stage right.

     We long to be remembered.  We are not beasts, content to live and die in the field nameless.  We are made to live forever; God has placed eternity into our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11).   We pine for the place where remarkable moments cannot be stolen.  But instead of trusting the one who destroyed the power of death to deliver us from fear, we use God’s gift of technology to seek what it has never truly offered: eternal life.  We frantically write our names on the walls of the Titanic.

  1. We Have Forgotten Our Hope

Our piles of photographs suggest that even we Christians hold to this life with strained knuckles.  We embrace the lovely as though we don’t expect to see it again.

     Although we might not articulate it, we may feel apprehensive about being reminded that this world is not our home.  We read the truth, “The world is passing away,” secretly saddened.  This is understandable.  This world is the only one we’ve known.  All our joys have been here.  Our loves have been here.  But faith reverses the priority. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

     As the world’s final page is turning, “whoever does the will of God abides forever.”  The best, for us, is yet to come.  We need not doubt nor fear our immortality.  The grandest moments here — the ones which compel us to grab our phones to smuggle what we can for a keepsake — are, at their most precious, only hints of what is to come.

     There exists a glory for the Christian in letting precious moments, after being fully tasted and delighted in, pass without regret.  We need not obsessively stuff memories and prop them up on display like some do wild animals.  This is not the closest we will get to heaven.

     For the child of God, all precious moments worth recounting here will be given us in the next life.  In eternity, the essence of all that pleased us here and now will return to us in full when we see God face-to-face.

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James 14:4b  —  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Hebrews 2:14b-15  —  (Jesus) shared in (our) humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Ecclesiastes 3:11b  —  (God) has also set eternity in the human heart.

I John 2:17  —  The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

II Corinthians 4:18  —  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.

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Teach us to number our days, O Lord, so that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.  Amen.  (Psalm 90:12)