1998) Mick Jagger and King Solomon (2/2)

     (…continued)  In our own hearts we know what Mick Jagger and Solomon are talking about.  Whether it is our job, marriage, family, house, vacation, church, retirement, or whatever—life never meets our expectations, and it never completely satisfies.  Life never measures up.  This makes some people go on endless search, moving here and going there, never settling and never committing, but always looking for something better and never quite finding what they are looking for.  Others have a more old school approach, accepting things as they are and sticking with it; like the guy who told me “I worked at the same place for my whole life and hated every day of it; but I kept at it.”  Either way, we ‘can’t get no satisfaction.’

     So back to the question:  Why can’t Mick Jagger or Solomon, or you or me, ever be satisfied?

     One of the answers the Bible gives is in that same book of Ecclesiastes by Solomon.  In the eleventh verse of the third chapter it says, “ God has set eternity in the human heart.”

     ‘Eternity’ is in our hearts, but in our heads we know the clock is always ticking, and the years are speeding by us.  We know the truth of what my mother always used to tell us kids when it was time to come in from outside.  We would always complain, and she would always say, “All good things must come to an end.”

     No matter how many of our wishes and desires are fulfilled, our frustration is with the fleeting nature of whatever we receive.  If it all could only last longer.  Have you seen Mick Jagger or Keith Richards lately?  They have had a pretty good run, but they are nearing the finish line, and they look it.

     God created us for eternity; that is what is in our hearts, and no matter how much we get or do, we never get complete satisfaction, because we can’t do anything about the fact that there is never enough time.

     God’s answer to this is found in Jesus Christ and his resurrection.  It always, all, comes back to Jesus.  Colossians 1:16-17 says:  “For in Jesus all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible; all things have been created through him and for him.  Jesus is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

     Blaise Pascal, one of the most brilliant scientific minds in history, found out in his thirties that science by itself could not satisfy him.  He found Jesus, and then he said of his previous dissatisfaction, “There is a God shaped hole in every heart.”

     St. Augustine, was one of the most brilliant theological minds in the history of the church.  He was first a brilliant philosopher, but Augustine found that to be unsatisfying.  When he was in his thirties, he became believer in Jesus, and then he said of his previous dissatisfaction:  “Our hearts are restless, until they find their rest in God.

     C.S. Lewis was also an unbeliever until he came to faith in Christ when he was about thirty years old.  Lewis then wrote this wonderful line:  “If we find ourselves with desires that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

     Or, as Solomon concluded (Ecclesiastes 3:11), “God has set eternity into our hearts.”

   None of this means that unbelievers are never satisfied, and as soon as you believe in Jesus you are always satisfied.  Of course not.  We remain sinners, and our hearts remain restless.  But we do, at least, know where that satisfaction is to be found, and we look forward to it.

            There is a verse in the Bible for us when we ‘can’t get no satisfaction.’  In Luke 6:21 there are these incredible words of Jesus: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” Wouldn’t that be great, for once, to be satisfied?  When will that happen?  In verse 23 Jesus adds, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”  It will be in heaven, said Jesus, that we will finally be satisfied.

     In the meantime, I know I still have to work at being satisfied, and maybe you do too.  It is a spiritual struggle.  Satisfaction does not come natural to me.  I have to work at it.  I have to remind myself to be grateful to God, because it is so easy to take everything for granted.  I have to remind myself to count my blessings.

Image result for cs lewis quotes desires nothing in this world can satisfy

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Ecclesiastes 3:11  —  He has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Luke 6:21  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

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

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Teach us to number our days, O Lord, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12

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1997) Mick Jagger and King Solomon (1/2)

     In December 2004, Rolling Stone magazine published a special issue which featured the 500 greatest songs of all time (that is, mostly Rock and Roll hits from mostly 1950-2000).  Second on the list was a song written by a couple twenty-two year-old British musicians, and it catapulted The Rolling Stones to international fame.  In early 1965, Keith Richards woke up in the middle of the night in a Florida hotel with a tune in his head.  He turned on a tape recorder that was by his bed, hummed a bit of it into the microphone, and went back to sleep with the recorder still going.  The next morning the tape had on it an eight note introduction that made music history, and 45 minutes of Keith Richards snoring.  Richards thought the tune might be good enough to be a filler on side ‘B’ of an album sometime.  But Mick Jagger wrote some lyrics for it, started singing it with a frenzied intensity that became his trademark, and put the song and the group into music history.  Here is that song, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrIPxlFzDi0

     This is a great song, but it does raise a question.  Why can’t Mick Jagger ‘get no satisfaction?’  Think about it– Mick Jagger had it all, already at the age of twenty-two.  First of all, he was having fun.  It is great fun to watch the Rolling Stones perform.  It certainly must have been a lot of fun to be them.  And for over fifty years they have had everything else– success, money, health, fame, friends, sex, travel—all the things most people think they need to make life full and good.  But all his life, Mick Jagger has been singing about not finding any satisfaction.

     And about once a week we hear about another such celebrity, who has it all, but commits suicide.

     Actually, there is one of the famous people of the Bible who was very much like Mick Jagger.  The Old Testament book of I Kings tells the story of someone else who, from a very young age had it all, and also did not find it satisfying.

     In the second chapter of I Kings, Solomon, the young son the great King David, is crowned the next king over all of Israel.  In the next chapter is this story of an amazing offer that God made to the new king (from I Kings 3:3-13):

     Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David… Then the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”  Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart…  Now, Lord my God, you have made me king in place of my father David.  But I am young and do not know how to carry out my duties…  So give me a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong…”  The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.  So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this, and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked.  I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.  Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.”

     God then richly blessed Solomon, and as a young man, he had everything.  He was the king of Israel during its greatest years of glory and power.  He , like Mick Jagger, had wealth, prestige, influence, international fame, and, sex (300 wives and 700 mistresses).

   Did having everything satisfy Solomon?  The answer can be found in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, which has always been attributed to Solomon.  The subtitle of Ecclesiastes could be “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”  Here are some glimpses from Solomon’s life:

Ecclesiastes 1:12-18  —  I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens…   I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.  For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

Ecclesiastes 2:1-11  —  So, I said to myself, “Come now, I will test myself with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said, “is madness.  And what does pleasure accomplish?”  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom.  I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.  I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees…  I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I acquired singers, and a harem as well—all the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me…  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure, (and I took) delight in all my labor… Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun…  So I hated life. (verse 17)…  Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied (5:10).

     Solomon tried everything:  knowledge and learning, pleasure and laughter, drinking and folly, hard work and accomplishment, building a beautiful palace and gardens, entertainment and sex, wealth and power.  But still he hated life.  It sounds to me like Solomon couldn’t ‘get no satisfaction.’  (continued…)

1996) Church Declining? Not in China!

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The Chinese government takes down crosses; the number of Christians goes up

Churches across China are facing increased pressure to align with the Communist Party, including replacing crosses with the national flag and displaying pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese Christians gather for worship

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By Eric Metaxas and Stan Guthrie, on Breakpoint Daily, posted September 25, 2018, at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

     I want you to meet some brave Christian leaders pledging their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.

     When thinking of the golden age of the Church, many of us hearken back to the book of Acts, when Peter and John stood up to the religious authorities, who told them to be silent about Jesus the risen Messiah.  “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God,” they answered, “you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  Then they prayed for boldness, and the Church exploded across much of the ancient world.

     But there’s a golden age for the church going on right now—with the same kind of courage, persecution, and Spirit-empowered growth.  Where is it?  In communist China.

     World missions historians tell us that when all the foreign missionaries were kicked out of Mao’s China a few years after the Second World War, there were probably no more than 3 million believers in Jesus Christ in the whole, vast nation.  But today, seven decades later, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life counts 67 million Christians of all kinds—35 million independent Protestants, 23 million Protestants in government-sanctioned churches, and 9 million Catholics.  Other estimates go even higher.

     Whatever the true number is, it’s almost as many as there are members of the Communist Party!  Maybe that’s why the government is cracking down on Christians.  According to Christianity Today and other news outlets, Under President Xi Jinping, China’s government has been tightening its grip on religious affairs.

     In February, regulations aimed at religious groups have brought increased pressure on churches to be “Chinese” culturally and to submit to the authority of the Communist Party.  Churches are being told to burn their crosses and replace them with Chinese flags and to display slogans praising the Communist Party.  Some are being forced to join the government-sanctioned churches and permit video surveillance of their services.

     Meanwhile, in Jiangxi province, authorities have forced at least 40 churches to display banners forbidding foreigners from preaching and anyone under 18 from attending.  In August, they even published new rules stating, “Party members who have religious belief should have strengthened thought education.”

     In the spirit of Peter and John, a group of at least 250 Chinese pastors has publicly signed a joint statement opposing the new regulations.  In the statement they declare that Jesus is Lord of all, offering eternal life to anyone who will repent and believe in Him.

     But they also say, in a challenge to the Chinese communists, “God hates all attempts to suppress human souls and all acts of persecution against the Christian church, and he will condemn and judge them with righteous judgment.”

     Then, like Peter and John, they pledge obedience not to the earthly authorities but to King Jesus, no matter what.  “We declare that in matters of external conduct, churches are willing to accept lawful oversight by civil administration or other government departments as other social organizations do.  But under no circumstances will we lead our churches to join a religious organization controlled by the government, to register with the religious administration department, or to accept any kind of affiliation.”

   They close their incredible joint statement with the bracing yet sobering words, “For the sake of the gospel, we are prepared to bear all losses—even the loss of our freedom and our lives.”

     Friends, is it any wonder that the church in China has grown, and continues to grow?  What we’re seeing before our eyes is the golden age of the church in China.  How can we not pray for these wonderful brothers and sisters?  And more than that, how can we not emulate their costly faithfulness in our own little corner of God’s world?

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Acts 4:18-20  —  Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Acts 5:27-29  —  The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest.  “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said.  “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”  Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God and not men.”

I Thessalonians 2:4  —  On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.  We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.

Matthew 10:28  —  (Jesus said), “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

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Faith of our fathers, living still
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith;
We will be true to thee till death.

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers, holy faith;
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God
Mankind shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith;
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife,
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.
Faith of our fathers, holy faith;
We will be true to thee till death.

–Frederick William Faber  (1814-1863)

1995) Investing in Mutual Funds

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By Rick Warren, September 26 (and 25), 2018, Daily Hope devotional, at:  http://www.pastorrick.org

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     God wants you to invest in other people in God’s family.  This is what I call the “Mutual Fund.”

     The Bible says in Romans 12:10, “Love one another with mutual affection” (NRSV).

     How do you invest in this Mutual Fund?  By using some of your money to encourage fellowship, to build relationships, and to demonstrate love.

     Anytime you give your money to God, it draws you closer to God.   Anytime you give your money to someone, it draws you closer to that person.  Anytime you write a note of encouragement, you’ve invested in the Mutual Fund.  Anytime you prepare or buy a meal and take it to somebody who’s sick, you’ve just invested in the Mutual Fund.  Anytime you provide a babysitter for somebody who needs to go to a conference or retreat, you’ve invested in the Mutual Fund.  When another believer is discouraged and needs somebody to talk to and you take that person out to lunch and pay for the meal, you just invested in the Mutual Fund.

     You can give to God, and God says that’s storing up treasure in heaven.  But you can also give to other people.  God says that when you do that as an act of love, it’s like banking it in heaven.  Anytime you use your funds to show love to somebody else in the family of God, you’re investing in the Mutual Fund.

     Why should you do this?  Why should you give to encourage fellowship?  The Bible says, “This service you do not only helps the needs of God’s people, it also brings many more thanks to God.  It is a proof of your faith.  Many people will praise God because you obey the Good News of Christ—the gospel you say you believe—and because you freely share with them and with all others” (2 Corinthians 9:12-13 NCV).

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When I was a little kid I used to buy or make all these little cheesy gifts for my parents.  When I look back, the gifts were really lame.  But every time I gave my parents a present, they were overjoyed.  It wasn’t like they needed anything from me, because they didn’t.  They just enjoyed the fact that I thought of them.

One time when I was 8 years old, I went into a thrift store and bought my mother a dress for 25 cents.  I thought it was a really cool dress.  It was about a size four, and my mom was a size 12.   The clerk said, “Ricky, your mom couldn’t get her big toe in that dress.”  I was so offended and went home crying.  When I gave the dress to my mom, she was so thrilled.  After she died, I found that dress in one of her dressers.  She’d kept it all those years.

There’s nothing you can give God that he needs.  But when you give him an offering, you’re saying, “God, I love you.  I’m thinking of you.  I want you first in my life.”

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II Corinthians 9:7  —  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

II Corinthians 9:12-13  —   This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.  Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

Romans 12:10  —  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.

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Make us always eager, Lord, to share the good things that we have.  Grant us such a measure of your Spirit that we may find more joy in giving than in getting.  Make us ready to give cheerfully without grudging, secretly without praise, and in sincerity without looking for gratitude, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.  

–John Hunter, Scottish pastor  (1849-1917)

1994) Jars of Clay

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“We Do Not Have To Be Perfect To Do God’s Will”

Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church,” at:  http://www.opendoorsusa.org

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     While living in Hong Kong, I used to make a point of having dinner with many of the Open Doors supporters worldwide that gave up some holiday time to courier Bibles into China.  Often in the course of their travels some of them would meet famous house church leaders and say, “To be truthful, I was a bit disappointed in meeting.”  They would add something like, “I thought these people would be remarkable saints, and of course they were, but they were also quite prejudiced, or rude, or had some other feature that I did not think worthy of a very spiritual leader.”  They assumed that the persecuted were “super-saints.”  But they are not. 

     It is a very unfortunate trend to idolize the persecuted.  We assume that if a Christian survives twenty years in a stinking prison cell they are in a completely different spiritual category from ourselves.  They are of course different in what they have experienced, but that does not necessarily make them more spiritual.  As J.C. Ryle once put it, “Even the best of men are still only men, even at their best.”  They often retain the blind spots and prejudices of their culture. 

     On one occasion I was taking a distinguished Bible teacher to meet a revival leader in Lanzhou, Gansu province.  This Chinese leader had seen over 50,000 people come to know the Lord through his ministry over a ten-year period, but to our amazement he taught that “you can only come to faith on a Sunday.”  He had been taught Christianity by his beloved grandmother, who believed the Lord would only listen to pleas for repentance on a Sunday.  We talked and argued about this, and eventually he threw us out shouting, “You just hate my Granny.”  I hear now, years later, that he has extended the “repentance period” to Saturday as well.  Yet he is still an extremely effective evangelist despite this chronic, man-made obstacle he has erected to the grace of God! 

     Surely the great point is this: flawed as some Chinese leaders were, they did the will of God mightily.  They labored in a country that has seen the number of Christians grow from less than one million in 1949 to over eighty millions today—the largest revival in the history of Christendom.  God didn’t stop pouring out his Spirit because his saints were imperfect.   

     If the persecuted teach us anything, it is that God will work through us even despite our prejudices, blind spots and eccentricities.  If we offer ourselves, we will be used… as we are. 

     We do not have to be perfect to do God’s will.  Otherwise, no one could.

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II Corinthians 12:9-10  —  (The Lord) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I Corinthians 2:1b-5  —  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.  My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

I Corinthians 1:26-31  —  Brothers, 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.  It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

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Martin Luther’s prayer for his ministry:

O Lord, you see  how unworthy I am to fill so great and important an office.  Were it not for your counsel, I would have utterly failed in it long ago.  Therefore, I call upon you for guidance.  Gladly indeed will I give my heart and my voice to this service.  I want to teach the people.  I myself want constantly to seek and study your Word, and eagerly meditate upon it.  Use me as your instrument.  Only, dear Lord, do not forsake me; for if I am left alone, I will most certainly ruin everything.  Amen.

1993) Some Good Prayer Advice

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“If You Feel Distracted in Prayer, Don’t Worry—It’s a Good Thing”

By Joshua Rogers, September 24, 2018, at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

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     So many times the same frustrating thing happens when I try to pray.  “Heavenly Father,“ I say, but almost immediately I get interrupted by my own thoughts.

     I really hope I don’t have to work late tonight.

     I try to correct course and refocus on God, but another distraction comes to mind.

     I wish I hadn’t yelled at the kids this afternoon.

     By that point, praying feels like a lost cause.  I’m obviously more interested in worrying than spending time with God.  Even so, I pull myself together and give it one more go – it’s hopeless.  I’m distracted again.

     Our mortgage is too high.  I wonder if my wife could get a higher paying job. 

     When those distractions keep coming, I’m tempted to feel guilty, but then I remember this invaluable advice from Paul Miller, author of “A Praying Life:”

“Come [to prayer] overwhelmed with life.  Come with your wandering mind.  Come messy. …  The very things we try to get rid of – our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness – are what get us in the front door.  That’s how the gospel works.  That’s how prayer works.”

     What a relief.  When I find distracting thoughts interrupting my prayer time, I shouldn’t resent myself for it.  Instead, I should pay attention to what those thoughts are and talk to God about them.

     I often notice that my distracting thoughts are related to the deepest fears and anxieties that subconsciously pull me away from Jesus throughout the day.  When I pray, He is letting them come to the surface so that I will give them to Him.

     We don’t have to feel guilty about the thoughts that distract us during prayer – we should notice them, name them, and tell Jesus about them.  He’s been waiting to hear about them all day.

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St. Bernard was traveling with a poor, uneducated farmer, who boasted, “I’m never distracted when I pray.”  Bernard objected, “I don’t believe it.  Let me make a bargain with you.  If you can say the Our Father without one distraction, I’ll give you this mule I’m riding.  But if you don’t succeed, you must come with me and be a monk.”  The farmer agreed and began praying aloud confidently, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . .”   Then, after pausing for a moment, he asked St. Bernard, “Does that include the saddle and the bridle, too?”

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Philippians 4:6-7  —  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I Peter 5:7  —  Cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you.

Psalm 55:22a  —  Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you.

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Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

–Psalm 19:4

1992) From A Tired Traveler Near the Journey’s End

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Lewis in 1958

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From a letter by C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) to Mary Willis Shelburne, June 17, 1963. 
Shelburne was dying, and Lewis himself died November 22, 1963 after a year filled with health problems.

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     Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well.  Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer?  It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you…  What is there to be afraid of?  You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life.  Your sins are confessed and absolved.  Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret?  There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.

     Remember, though we struggle against things because we are afraid of them, it is often the other way round– we get afraid because we struggle.  Are you struggling, resisting?  Don’t you think our Lord says to you “Peace, child, peace.  Relax.  Let go.  Underneath are the everlasting arms.  Let go, I will catch you.  Do you trust me so little?”

    Of course, this may not be the end.  Then make it a good rehearsal.

     Yours (and like you a tired traveler near the journey’s end)  

     Jack

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Deuteronomy 33:27a — The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

John 16:33 — (Jesus said), “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 1:20-24 — I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me.  Yet what shall I choose?  I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

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Let me never think, O eternal Father, that I am here to stay.  Let me still remember that I am a stranger and pilgrim on the earth.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.  Preserve me by Thy grace, good Lord, from so losing myself in the joys of earth that I may have no longing left for the purer joys of heaven.  Let not the happiness of this day become a snare to my too worldly heart.  And if, instead of happiness, I have today suffered any disappointment or defeat, if there has been any sorrow where I had hoped for joy, or sickness where I had looked for health, give me grace to accept it from Thy hand as a loving reminder that this is not my home.  Amen.     –John Baillie (1886-1960)

1991) Birth and Death

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By Rebecca McLaughlin, “Giving Birth Taught Me How to Die,” September 20, 2018, at:  http://www.desiringgod.org .  Rebecca holds a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill Seminary in London.  Formerly Vice President of content at The Veritas Forum, Rebecca is now co-founder of Vocable Communications.  She is the author of the forthcoming book, Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Worldview (Crossway, 2019).

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     Last month I gave birth to my third child.  It was the painful peeling back of twenty-first century comforts that labor always is.  Agonizing, and undignified: my life was suddenly interrupted by invasive procedures, and my body was writhing from the shock of natural processes.

     Labor in the West today is an odd coupling.  Our most ancient, primal processes stitched awkwardly together with state-of-the-art technology.  I was not having a “natural birth,” and yet much of what happened was unavoidably natural.

     As I lay on the hospital bed, waiting to meet my son, two windows opened in my mind.

     The first was a window onto birth: real birth, as experienced by billions of women before me.  Delivering a child was hard for me, despite every help and convenience, every nurse and doctor who attended me, every soothing drug that seeped into my veins to numb the pain.  My body was ravaged.  But I had help in every form and a faithful husband by my side — that day and for the many days to come.  What would it be like without all this?

     My mind flipped through scenes of other women giving birth — scenes I have only accessed through words on a page or images on a screen.  Women who give birth alone.  Women who have no medical help and confront the harshness of birth without relief.  Women who know their child may die — or that they themselves may die — in the process.  We in the West have stretched ourselves away from these realities, but lying in a labor and delivery ward, the specter of what birth has meant to billions hovered around me and I could not shake it.

     Then came the questions: how could God allow this much pain to this many?  The stark suffering written into the script of human beginnings.   The lonely lament of women who give birth on the margins, hiding in shadows or exposed by circumstance.  And yet God is — as the slave-girl mother Hagar named him — “the God who sees” (Genesis 16:13).

     He is the God who tenderly witnesses this suffering, who meets us in it if we turn to him.  And he is the God who alone can truly help, whether we lie on a dirt floor or a hospital bed.  Indeed, he is the God who relates to us like a woman giving birth.  He is the Rock who bore us, the God who gave us birth (Deuteronomy 32:18).  Though a mother may forget the baby at her breast, he will not forget us (Isaiah 49:15).  There are no tidy answers from this God.  But there is the broken body of his Son, naked and humiliated, dying so that we might live.

     And then my mind wandered forward.  I will never endure the harshness of an unhelped birth.  But one day, I will face the harshness of death.  One day, my visit to a hospital will not end with a new life in my arms, but with my cold dead body covered by a sheet.  The doctors will attempt to help.  They will bring their machines, but they will be running for a train that is gaining speed.  In the end, my hands will slip through their fingers.  It may be an undignified farewell.  The best I can hope for is that my children will be there.  My husband, if we follow statistical norms, will have already paved the way.  What then will be my hope, as lights flicker and monitors blink?

     The story of Lazarus raised from the dead has been on my mind for many years.  Not because Jesus shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” and the man who was dead comes out (John 11:43–44) — though the scene is marvelous.  But because of the quiet conversation Jesus has with Martha first.

     Jesus forced this crisis.  Martha called for him when her brother was sick, and Jesus did not come.  He deliberately let Lazarus die, waiting until he had been dead four days.  And then he came.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” he told this woman through her tears.  “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” (John 11:25).

     Jesus does not just give us resurrection.  He is the resurrection and the life.  Without him, there is only death.  With him, there is a life no lonely death can take away.  Giving birth was, for me, a trial run — a window onto the vista of death.  The modern-day blinds were drawn back for a moment.

     Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

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Genesis 16:13  —  (Hagar) gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Deuteronomy 32:18  —  You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.

Isaiah 49:15  —  (God said), “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you.”

John 11:25  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”

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

–Philip Melancthon  (1497-1560), German reformer

1990) Choose NOT to Be Offended

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Posted September 21, 2018, at:  http://www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com

     Once when visiting with a friend, I was relating an incident which had caused friction and ill will between a mutual friend, “Jack,” and another person.  Jack was quite hurt and discouraged by what had happened, and frankly, the other person was clearly at fault. 

     My friend said, “I know a way to prevent such things from ever happening.”  I was astonished at his remark — what inside information did he have?

      “It is really quite simple,” my friend said.  “Choose NOT to be offended.”

     Choose NOT to be offended.  It has become a motto for me!  When people say the wrong thing, whether unthinkingly or deliberately, I say to myself, “If they are unaware, oh well, it is not my problem.  If they are trying to hurt me, I will sweetly deny them that satisfaction.  I choose NOT to be offended.”  And I let it go.  If someone does something which makes my life more difficult and I find myself getting knotted up about it, I remind myself, “Life is full of ups and downs.  Choose NOT to be offended and just get on with it.”  And I stop the pity party.

     1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  In my youth I thought it meant that my love covered other people’s sins, particularly the people I liked and could be generous and forgiving towards.  Now I know it is God’s love that covers all our sins.  Only with Christ’s forgiveness can I live at all.  With that clearly in mind, then, I have found it easier and easier to take my friend’s advice and choose NOT to be offended.

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Proverbs 19:11  —  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

I Peter 4:8  —  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

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

Colossians 3:12-13  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

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

–Martin Luther

1989) “If You Hear I’m Dead…”

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“Some day you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody of East Northfield, Massachusetts is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it.  At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.  I will have gone up higher, that’s all; out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, eternal in the heavens; a body that death cannot touch; that sin cannot taint.  I was born  of the flesh in 1837.  I was born of the spirit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die.  That which is born of the spirit will live forever.”

–Dwight L. Moody, the greatest evangelist of the 19th century  (1837-1899)

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A young Benjamin Franklin wrote this little verse in 1728 to serve as his epitaph.  Franklin made copies of this verse for friends at various times in his life.  This plaque appears on a wall near Franklin’s grave.

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     “Good morning, and how is John Quincy Adams today?” asked an old friend as he shook the former president’s trembling hand.

     The retired chief executive looked at him for a moment and then replied, “John Quincy Adams is quite well, sir, quite well.  But the house in which he lives at the present is becoming dilapidated.  It is tottering upon its foundation.  Time and the seasons have almost destroyed it.  Its roof is pretty well worn out.  Its walls are much shattered and it crumbles a little bit with every wind.  The old tenement is becoming almost uninhabitable, and I think John Quincy will have to move out of it soon.  But he himself is quite well, sir, quite well.”

     It was not long after that he suffered his second and fatal stroke.

John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848)

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John 11:25-26  —  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

John 14:18-19  —  (Jesus said), “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.  Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-9 (Contemporary English Version)  —  Our bodies are like tents that we live in here on earth.  But when these tents are destroyed, we know that God will give each of us a place to live.  These homes will not be buildings that someone has made, but they are in heaven and will last forever.  While we are here on earth, we sigh because we want to live in that heavenly home.  We want to put it on like clothes and not be naked.  These tents we now live in are like a heavy burden, and we groan.  But we don’t do this just because we want to leave these bodies that will die.  It is because we want to change them for bodies that will never die.  God is the one who makes all of this possible.  He has given us his Spirit to make us certain that he will do it.  So always be cheerful!  As long as we are in these bodies, we are away from the Lord.  But we live by faith, not by what we see.  We should be cheerful, because we would rather leave these bodies and be at home with the Lord.  But whether we are at home with the Lord or away from him, we still try our best to please him.

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Father in heaven, draw our hearts to you, that our hearts may be where our true treasure is found, and that our minds and thoughts may look to your kingdom, whose citizens we are.  Thus, when you shall call us hence, our departure may not be a painful separation from this world, but a joyous meeting with you.  

Perhaps a long road still lies before us.  Sometimes our strength is gone, and a faintness overcomes us, and we are in darkness; we become restless and impatient and our heart groans in anxiety about what is to come.  O Lord our God, do then teach us, and strengthen in our hearts the conviction that in life, as well as in death, we belong to you.  Amen.

–Soren Kierkegaard  (1813-1855)  Danish philosopher and theologian