2040) Declining with Grace and Faith (a)

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From Your Peak Life Now: How to Face Career Decline with Grace and Faith, by Michele Van Loon, posted July 24, 2019, at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com .  Van Loon is an author and speaker. Her book Becoming Sage: Cultivating Meaning, Purpose, and Spirituality at Midlife releases next spring from Moody Publishers.

     I visited my hometown about a decade after I graduated high school and stopped at the local greasy spoon joint for a nostalgic junk food meal.  I was surprised to see one of the most popular guys in school, star gymnast Tim, behind the counter taking orders.  I asked him how long he’d been working there and he shrugged.  “Guess I never left high school.”

     When I used to bemoan the fact that I wasn’t one of the popular kids, my grandmother would shake her head and tell me, “You don’t want to peak too early in life.”  Running into Tim seemed to affirm her words.  But as Arthur Brooks reminds us in a recent Atlantic essay titled “Your Professional Decline Is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think,” holding onto our peak achievements isn’t just for aging high school gymnasts.  Many of us anchor our identity in accomplishments, but when our careers fade—which they inevitably do—our sense of self-worth fades with it and leaves us floundering.

     Brooks, a social scientist and former president of the American Enterprise Institute, notes that many of us will have the most productive years of our work lives between ages 30 and 50.  After that, we begin a long, slow slide into professional irrelevance.  Certainly there are exceptions to the rule.  However, while we can expect to make meaningful contributions in the workplace after age 50, we likely won’t be climbing the success ladder at the same rate we once did.  And how we navigate that decline can make or break our retirement years.

     The more your identity is linked to achievement, says Brooks, the greater the sense of loss when your career downshifts or ends.  “Abundant evidence suggests that the waning of ability in people of high accomplishment is especially brutal psychologically. … I strongly suspect that the memory of remarkable ability, if that is the source of one’s self-worth, might, for some, provide an invidious contrast to a later, less remarkable life,” he writes.

     Roughly a third of the US population is over age 50, which means a whole lot of us are facing this kind of professional decline, and most of us will eventually find ourselves frustrated and disoriented by a world that’s no longer interested in what we have to offer.  For all of human history, people have been trying to make sense of this existential dark space—the downward arc that comes at the beginning of the end.  Popular culture often brands it a “midlife crisis,” and indeed, coming to terms with mortality can first occur during the vicissitudes of our 40s and 50s.  However, questions of purpose, identity, and meaning persist well into our final decades.

     From a biblical perspective, there are two main antidotes: meditating on death and meditating on God.

     First, it behooves us to think about our own mortality.  This insight wouldn’t be news to Qohelet, the Preacher-King who penned the book of Ecclesiastes.  He writes from the vantage point of someone who’s tasted an entire orchard of worldly fruits, including work, pleasure, power, wealth, and wisdom.  His assessment in the end:  Those successes were as permanent as the smoke from a fire and as meaningful as an unsolvable riddle.  The Hebrew word hebel, which is translated as “meaningless” in the NIV and as “vanity” in the KJV, is used 33 times throughout the book.  The word carries connotations of futility and delusion, but in context of the whole Book of Ecclesiastes, it also gestures toward the strange and subtle liberation that comes with embracing our own death.

     In his book Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End, David Gibson suggests that the author of Ecclesiastes understands the cure to the despair of a declining career:

The Preacher will argue that wisdom, pleasure, work, and possessions are very often the bubbles we live in to insulate ourselves from reality.  And his needle, the sharp point he uses to burst the bubbles, is death.  It is the great reality facing all human beings as they go about their business on earth.  Death is the one ultimate certainty that we erase from our minds and busy ourselves to avoid facing.

     Gibson concludes that contemplating death frees us to truly enjoy life by uncoupling us from a fascination with worldly success and affirmation.  He writes, “This is the main message of Ecclesiastes in a nutshell: Life in God’s world is gift, not gain.”  (continued…)

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Psalm 39:4  —  Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.

Ecclesiastes 1:2  —  “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.  “Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13  —  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

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Teach us to number our days, O Lord, that we may gain heart of wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12

2039) Be Shrewd

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The Dishonest Steward, drawings by Eugene Burnand  (1850-1921)

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Luke 16:1-13 (NIV)  —  Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.  So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you?  Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now?  My master is taking away my job.  I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.  For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

“No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.”

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From Daily Hope with Rick Warren, July 2018, at:  http://www.PastorRick.com

     The Bible tells the story in Luke 16:1-13 of a rich man who enlisted a manager to take care of his property.  When the manager was accused of mishandling his master’s money and was called in to give an account of his stewardship, the manager devised a plan.  He knew he was going to lose his job and decided to make some friends who would take care of him when he was fired.  So he summoned everyone who owed his master money and lowered their debt; if someone owed 800 gallons of olive oil, he told them to change their bill to 400 gallons.

     When the master heard what he had done, he “had to admire the dishonest rascal for being so shrewd.  And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light” (Luke 16:8 NLT).

     In the parable, Jesus doesn’t praise the manager’s dishonesty, but he does praise his shrewdness.  What is shrewdness?  To be shrewd means you’re smart, strategic, and resourceful.  You see a problem clearly, you know what needs to be done, and then you figure out how to do it.  God wants you to learn how to be biblically shrewd with your money for the rest of your life.

     From the story, we can learn four things that we shouldn’t do with our money.

1. Don’t waste your money. 
Luke 16:1 says, “A report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money” (NLT).  Because everything you have belongs to God and is a gift from him — including your money — you have to be careful not to waste what belongs to your master.

2. Don’t love your money.
You’ve got to decide if God is going to be number one in your life or if making a lot of money will be your main goal in life.  You cannot serve both.  “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13 NLT).

3. Don’t trust your money.
I don’t care how much money you’ve got — you can always lose it.  The manager learned this pretty quickly in Luke 16:3: “Now what? My boss has fired me.”  If you want to be secure, the center of your life has to be built around something that can never be taken from you.  And there’s only one thing that you can never lose: God’s love for you.

4. Don’t expect your money to satisfy.

If you think having more will make you happier, more secure, or more valuable, you are seriously misguided, because money will never satisfy: “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 NIV).

     That’s why Jesus says in Luke 12:15, “Guard against every kind of greed.  Life is not measured by how much you own” (NLT)

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O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature.  All that we possess is from your hand.  Make us always thankful for your loving providence.  Give us grace that we may honor you with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, (from prayers #157 and #183)

2038) Who Are the Best?

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John 13:1-16  — It was just before the Passover Festival.  Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”  For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.  “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

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     J. Dudley Woodbury tells a poignant true story that occurred in the dismal refugee camps of Peshawar, Pakistan.  The fighting between the Majahideen in post-Soviet Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban resulted in thousands of refugees flooding into the camps near the border.  Most of the children in the camps ran around barefoot in both the intense heat and intense cold.

     A Christian organization brought in hundreds of sandals for the children but decided not to just distribute them but care for the children’s feet as well.  So they utilized as many Christian volunteers as possible who washed the children’s filthy feet, put medication on their sores and prayed for them silently as they gave out the sandals. 

     As Woodbury tells the story, some months later a Muslim primary school teacher in the camp asked her students who the best Muslims were.  One little girl raised her hand and responded, “The kafirs.” (unbelievers).

     The teacher was shocked at the reply, and asked, “Why?”

     The little girl said, “The Mujahideen killed my father, but the kafirs washed my feet!”

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Lord God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the world.  Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.  Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978  (#141)

2037) What Do You Know? (part two of two)

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            (…continued)  So, where do we get those beliefs?  Where should we get them?  Is it enough that the thoughts just occur to us from our own little, inner voice?  Or, should such thoughts and beliefs be based on something; something solid like the Bible.  But then you have to know what the Bible says, and, why it can be trusted on a deeper level than all other books.  So you have to study it.  And there is a lot in there.  And yet, these questions are important.  The lack of a meaningful answer can mean the death of faith and the loss of hope, now and forever.

            Anytime life makes you ask, “Why, God?” you are on your way to wrestling with the very deepest dilemmas of life and faith.  If you keep on seeking an answer you will be led deeper and deeper into what the Bible says.

            As someone who has been digging into the Bible and other books with a passion for over 40 years, I can tell you that I don’t have it all figured out yet.  There is much to learn and it is all very helpful, but still, time and time again I am led back from all my books to the simple belief I have held onto ever since I could first hear and understand words– “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” It really is as simple as that.  Simple faith does save you and it doesn’t have to be complicated. 

            But life itself will many times complicate it all for you, and many times you will look at what is happening to you and to your loved ones and you will ask, “Does Jesus really love me?–It sure isn’t looking that way right now.’,’  Perhaps you have felt that way.

            And that is when it will help to know more of what the Bible says, and how it is that Jesus loves us even in the midst of our pain; and how sometimes, (not always but sometimes), God might even be the cause of our pain for some good purpose; and, how sometimes God doesn’t cause our pain at all, but protects us from the harm that Satan seeks to do to us; and how sometimes, of course, we cause our own pain, and, others cause us pain; and on and on.  And this can all get very complicated.  And there are answers and insights enough in the Bible to keep you busy for a lifetime of study.  Some, like myself as a pastor, have more time for this than others.  It has been a part of my job and calling to struggle with that and to be here to respond to your faith questions and to teach you what I have learned.  But all Christians will want to seek more understanding and try to get some handles on these great mysteries of life and faith, in order to help your faith grow in depth and strength.  Is faith simple?  Yes it is.  Believe in Jesus and you will be saved, the Bible says.  PERIOD.  That is simple.  But there will be all kinds of times in your life when you will want to know more.

            And the best time to learn is before you need to.  The right time to fix your roof is NOT when it is pouring rain and thundering and lightening; and the time to learn about the mysteries of God and faith is not in the minutes or days right after a tragedy.  You fix the roof on the sunny days so you are ready for the rain; and you want to learn about your faith in the happy and peaceful days before the bad days come.

            The reading at the beginning of this two part meditation is short and simple—only five verses.  Jesus is visiting at the home of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead.  Martha is doing all the work, and she is getting irritated with her sister who isn’t doing anything.  So Martha complains to Jesus, and Jesus says to her, “Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed most of all, and Mary has chosen what is best.”  And what was it Mary had chosen?  To sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him and learn from him.  Jesus told her this is what is most important of all.  This is what this meditation has been about—taking the time to learn from the Bible what Jesus says about Himself and God the Father and the Holy Spirit and why bad things happen and about life and eternity. 

            And when we do that, the Holy Spirit will work in our hearts to create a faith that endures, and that, said Jesus in verse 42, is what we need most of all.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us 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

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O Lord God, Heavenly Father, we beseech thee so to guide us by thy Holy Spirit, that we hear and receive thy Holy Word with our whole heart, in order that through thy Word we may learn to place all our trust and hope in Jesus; and following him, be led safely through all evil, until by thy grace, we come to everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.

United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917

2036) What Do You Know? (part one of two)

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Mary Heard His Word, Walter Rane ( http://www.walterraneprints.com )

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Luke 10:38-42  —  As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

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            A church is also a school.  There are many settings within the life of a congregation where education takes place.  It is one of the main things congregations do.  And Christians do that because we follow Jesus and that is what Jesus did.  In one brief summary of an average day in the life of Jesus, Mark tells us, “Jesus went around teaching from village to village”  (Mark 6:6).  And he did that because “he had compassion on the people as they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34).

     But frankly, study about religion is not everybody’s cup of tea.  Religion can be a confusing matter, with so many odd sounding words and complicated ideas.  Sanctification, justification, atonement, reconciliation, hermenuetics– who uses words like that in the Monday morning world?  What good is it for daily life to have to learn all that sort of thing?  Is knowing what is in the Old Testament book of Obadiah going to make you any more money?   Probably not.  And besides, when it comes to religion, there are so many opinions and different points of view; who’s to say which is right and which is wrong?  After all, one’s faith, should be simple, and not so complicated.  “Religion is something of the heart” some say. “It should not have to be an academic pursuit,’” they say; “it is an ‘inner experience,’ not to be made complicated by all kinds of big words and sophisticated theological concepts.  Besides, I know what I believe.” Behind that statement is the firm belief that religion is so simple, you don’t even have to go anywhere to learn anything. It is all, already in you.

     But the trouble is, this talk about the simple faith that is already inside you; this religion of the heart and not of the head; this kind of ‘inner faith’ is oftentimes abandoned when life gets tough.  It is too simple and too shallow to survive challenges.  Actually, it is not the church with its big words and sophisticated theology that makes Christianity difficult.  It is life that causes the problem.  Tough times come to us all, and then it can become difficult to believe even the most basic beliefs.  What we know or do not know about God and the Bible becomes very important then.

     A middle-aged man says: “I used to believe in God and go to church.  But then two weeks before my son graduated from college, he was struck and killed by a drunk driver.  How can I believe in a God that allows that to happen?’

     Then, there are others who react to tragedy in a very different way.  A young mother says, “I never paid much attention to God or church or the Bible until my little girl got cancer.  We said so many prayers, and still she died, but it was God who gave me the strength to get through that.  And now my biggest comfort is in knowing that my little girl is with God.  I know I can’t live without God in my life, and I know I will see my little girl again in heaven.  I now see everything that happened as a part of God’s plan.”

     For another example:  a philosophy professor says, “Who can believe in a good God in a world like this?” and holds up a newspaper article about tens of thousands of people starving in Ethiopia.

      But then, at the same time on the other side of the world, a starving Ethiopian says “God is so good,” while standing in the food line at the refugee camp provided by Lutheran World Relief.  “My family was on the verge of death,” he says, “but God sent these Christians to help us just in time.”

    And still another says, “God is wherever God is, if there even is a God.  Famines, earthquakes, hurricanes just happen—sometimes here, sometimes there.  It is all a matter of luck.  Just be glad when it doesn’t happen to you.  God has nothing to do with it.”

     Do you see what is going on there?  Bad things happen, as they always do, and all of a sudden, everybody becomes a theologian.  Faith and life become not so simple, everybody has an opinion, or a belief, about what God is up to and why.  “It’s a punishment… It is awful, God must not be good… It was bad, but God was so good to me…  God doesn’t get involved…  God causes everything, good and bad…  God is there, yes, but our free will is also involved and so is good or bad luck…  God doesn’t have it all preprogrammed and we are on our own…”  There are many different ways to understand God’s presence in and involvement with the world and our personal lives.  When bad things happen, some people turn away from God, some people grow closer to God.  We all have our own thoughts and theories about what God is doing or not doing when trouble comes our way.   (continued…)

2035) Manners from Mother

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“Three Cures for a Society Obsessed With Offenses”

By Annie Holmquist, posted July 22, 2019 at: http://www.intellectualtakeout.org

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     I’m a positive type of person.  I like to smooth things over, to think the best of others.

     So it startled me to realize that, several months ago, I was doing the exact thing I prided myself on not doing: jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst of another person.

     Unfortunately, many fall into this habit with increasing regularity.  Someone makes a comment on Twitter or another public forum.  Perhaps it was intended to be funny, perhaps not.  Either way, someone views it as offensive, gets his dander up, and proclaims his indignation against the other person far and wide.

     Many of us are tired of the automatic offensive reaction taking root in society.  So how do we find our way back to civility?

     I stumbled upon a possible answer to this while reading Whittaker Chambers’ Witness the other day.  For those unfamiliar with the book, Witness tells the life story of an American boy, Whittaker Chambers, who became a Communist spy in the 1920s.  Chambers eventually escaped the clutches of the Communists and exposed some of their activities in the infamous Alger Hiss case of the late 1940s.

     As Chambers explains, his time in the Communist party did not deter him from the manners his mother instilled in him, manners which established a clear course of action in dealing with offenses.  According to Chambers’ mother, “a gentleman… is known not so much by what he does as by what he will not do.”  Three of the things a gentleman – or “man of breeding” – will not do include the following:

1. He Will Not Think the Worst
   According to Chambers’ mother, a true gentleman “never imputes a bad motive to anyone else.”  Instead, he believes the best about the one who offended him, “assuming that the rudeness is unintentional,” and even acting as if it is, even when it clearly is not.

     We are bound to be offended. It’s how we handle those offenses that matters.  Those with enough strength to turn a blind eye to an offense will quickly diffuse the situation and may even gain a friend rather than make an enemy.

2. He Will Not Yield to Anger
 In a situation where one individual is getting riled up, nothing is easier than to match wits and lungs in a heated shouting match.  A truly polished individual, however, refrains from hot-headedness, and “never [meets] anger with anger,” declares Chambers’ mother.

3. He Will Not Patronize
   There are many smart individuals in the world, but the smartest ones combine intelligence with humility.  According to Chambers’ mother, a gentleman “never patronized anyone because he never assumed that he knew more than anyone else or that uneducated people are unintelligent.”  Furthermore, a gentleman “never rejoices over other people’s slips.”

     Chambers concludes these exhortations with another quotation, “‘Always,’ my mother would say, ‘allow other people the luxury of being mistaken.  They will find out for themselves soon enough.  If they don’t they are the kind of people in whom it does not matter.”

     Is it time that we followed this maxim?  Instead of immediately jumping to conclusions, pointing fingers, and getting angry, would we demonstrate superiority of mind and character if we swallowed our pride and instead believed the best about those who seek to offend us?

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To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition imposed on us by someone or something else.

–David Bednar

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

II Timothy 2:24  —  Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

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

Colossians 3:12-14  —  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.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

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PRAYERS BASED ON MARTIN LUTHER’S SMALL CATECHISM EXPLANATION TO THE EIGHT COMMANDMENT:

O God, you command us not to bear false witness against our neighbor.  May we so fear and love you that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor; but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.  They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.  Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.  Amen.

2034) The Rest of the Story

Poster from the 1962 movie Mutiny on the Bounty (movies were also made on this story in 1935,with Clark Gable; and 1984, with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins)

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By Dan Braves at http://www.Christianity.com

     On April 28, 1789, mutineers on H. M. S. Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, dragged Lieutenant William Bligh from his bed.  They set Bligh adrift in an open launch with eighteen men.  A capable but tyrannical leader, Bligh managed to guide the little boat 3,600 miles to safety in the Dutch Indies (Indonesia).

     The mutineers, however, headed for Tubai, an island south of Tahiti.  Reception was hostile and, after a trip to Tahiti and back, in which the mutineers picked up some native women and men, and at least one child, they abandoned Tubai and sailed back to Tahiti.  Some of the sailors had not been mutineers at all and elected to stay on Tahiti.  Eight accompanied Fletcher Christian to parts unknown with the women and with six Polynesian men.  

     What became of them was not known until September, 1808, when a New England whaler, the Topaz, spotted Pitcairn Island and landed to take on water.  To Captain Folger’s surprise, he found natives who spoke a garbled English.  It turned out that the mutineers of the Bounty had settled on the uninhabited Pitcairn.  (The movies usually end here, with the brave adventurers beginning a new life on this island paradise.)

     But all was not well in paradise.  The mutineers all fought with each other, and with the native men and women (brought from Tahiti), until all the men were dead except two:  Edward Young and John Adams (also known as Alexander Smith).  

     Ashamed of the violence and horrors they had witnessed and had partaken of, the two remaining mutineers began to read the Bible (which became their textbook) and to teach it to the children who had been born to the settlement.  By the time Folger arrived, Young also had been dead several years, dying of an asthma attack.  Adams was patriarch of the clan.  Thanks to his continued efforts, the older children were able to read and write a little (Adams himself was poorly educated) and the whole community was devout.

How Christianity Came to Pitcairn Is.

John Adams (also known as Alexander Smith), mutineer and settler/leader of Pitcairn Island  (1767-1829)

     Indeed, what impressed early visitors most was the obvious piety of the islanders, who prayed morning and evening and both before and after their meals, did not engage in the sexual promiscuity common to other islands, were able to recite the creed and parts of the Bible, and observed the “Sabbath” (as they called Sunday).  One observer wrote, “In conducting the most trivial affairs they are guided by the Scriptures, which they have read diligently, and from which they quote freely and frequently.”

     The hard conditions of the island, which could not be neglected if it were to produce enough food, and their continual grounding in the Bible stories, had made the Pitcairners a serious, although good-humored, community.  The gifts they most wanted from Topaz were books, and the whaler managed to provide them with 200 which the islanders received with the greatest delight.

     In 1887 the island’s entire population converted to Seventh Day Adventism by missionaries.

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Sir Charles Lucas, Pitcairn Island historian, describes the coming of religion to the island:

Many notable cases of religious conversion have been recorded in the history of Christianity, but it would be difficult to find an exact parallel to that of John Adams.  The facts are quite clear.  There is no question as to what he was and did after all his shipmates on the island had perished.  He had no human guide or counselor to turn him into the way of righteousness and to make him feel and shoulder responsibility for bringing up a group of boys and girls in the fear of God.  He had a Bible and a Prayer Book to be the instruments of his endeavor, so far as education, or rather lack of education, served him.  He may well have recalled to mind memories of his own childhood, but there can be only one simple and straightforward explanation of what took place, that it was the handiwork of the Almighty, whereby a sailor, seasoned to crime, came to himself in a far country, and learned and taught others to follow Christ…  

In order to fully appreciate the Pitcairn story, it is necessary to keep before the mind’s eye the contrasts which it presented.  What could be more remote from the murders and crimes of the early years upon the island, than the settlement as it developed under John Adams, in peace, godliness and comparative innocence?  Or, again, contrast the day-to-day life of this tiny, isolated group of human beings, as it flowed on in even monotony, with the wars and rumors of wars and great events which in the same years stirred the whole outside world.  Pitcairn might have been on another planet!

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For more on this story go to:

https://library.puc.edu/pitcairn/pitcairn/religion.shtml

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Pitcairn Isalnd today, population 50:

The island features beautiful scenery and wildlife but that doesn't seem to be enough to attract new residents

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Luke 15:13…17-18  —  The younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living…  When he came to himself, he said, “How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.”

Zechariah 1:2-4 (portions)  —  This is what the Lord Almighty says:  “Return to me… and I will return to you…  Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.”

Galatians 5:19-25  —  The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.  I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Isaiah 42:10, 12a  —  Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earthyou who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them…  Let them give glory to the Lord.

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45

2033) Why ‘Old School’ is the Best

Image result for mutiny on the bounty movie gibson images

Mutiny on the Bounty, 1984 movie poster

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From The One Year Book of Amazing Stories, by Robert Petterson, (2018, Tyndale), pages 532-4.  

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     Why does it still fascinate more than two hundred years later?  The mutiny took place on the smallest of British, naval ships, with a crew that numbered only forty-six, on an ignoble mission of carrying breadfruit plants from Tahiti to the West Indies as cheap food for slaves.  Yet the mutiny on the Bounty has generated endless studies, novels, and major movies.

     Could it be that the conflict on that speck of a ship is a metaphor for the battles of our own age?  Captain William Bligh represented God and king, law and order, discipline by the book, and duty before pleasure.  He was willing to sacrifice himself and every member of his crew for the good of ship and country.  Opposing him was master’s mate Fletcher Christian, the man who put individual rights above the common good, romanticism over reason, happiness before patriotism, and unfettered freedom ahead of the rule of law.  Bligh was old school, while Christian was the champion of a new morality.  In every movie about the mutiny, Bligh is the bully and villain, while Christian comes off the hero.  It makes sense because way back in 1789 Fletcher Christian personified the values of today’s Hollywood.  But Hollywood movies seldom tell the rest of the story.

     When the mutineers put Bligh and seventeen of his loyalists in a tiny twenty-three-foot open boat and set them adrift out in the middle of a vast ocean, they might as well have been sentencing them to death.  Yet somehow this law-and-order villain of Hollywood movies managed to pull off history’s greatest feat of seamanship.  In an epic forty-seven-day test of endurance, he willed his men through cannibal islands and across stormy seas 3,618 miles to safety!  And old-school Bligh lost only one man in the process.

     On the other hand, the rebel without a cause took his mutineers back to the sexual pleasures and unfettered freedoms of Tahiti.  Then fearing the hangman’s noose, they took their women to a desolate island called Pitcairn.  There the fugitives from British justice scuttled the ship and turned their island into a den of mayhem and murder.  A few years later, an American whaling ship would discover a single fugitive mutineer and a few others.  The rest of the crew had been murdered or died of illness, and Fletcher Christian was long dead.

     Hollywood doesn’t tell you the end of this story, but we ought to recall the fate of the HMS Bounty when we put Captain Bligh and traditional values adrift and turn the USS America over to those who promote unfettered freedoms over moral absolutes and compassion over law and order.  Bligh might not be as likable as Fletcher Christian, but his old school type is more likely to take us to safety.  That surely beats the depravity of Pitcairn’s Island.

     Aristotle put it well:  “At his best, man is the noblest of all creatures.  Separated from law and justice, he is the worst.”

(Tomorrow’s meditation will tell the rest of the rest of the story)

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Jeremiah 6:16  —  This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the old paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Psalm 119:47-48  —  I delight in your commands because I love them.  I reach out for your commands, which I love, that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 116:7  —  Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

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Almighty God,
You alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners:

Grant Your people grace to love what You command and desire what You promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

2032) Why Faith?

Image result for philip yancey images

Philip Yancey  (1949- )

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‘WHY I BELIEVE’  by Philip Yancey, posted June 22, 2019 at:  http://www.philipyancey.com

(Adapted from A Skeptic’s Guide to Faith by Philip Yancey)

     Early in his pilgrimage, the literary monk Thomas Merton wrote, “Very soon we get to the point where we simply say, ‘I believe’ or ‘I refuse to believe.’”  Faith runs hot and cold over time, offering up reasons both to believe and disbelieve.

     It did not surprise Jesus in the least that some would disbelieve him, regardless of evidence.  He had predicted as much: “they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  It does not surprise me either that some disbelieve the reality of an unseen world, especially in an age which excels at mastering the visible world.  For many, God cannot possibly exist unless he makes himself visible or tangible—and God does not perform on our terms.

     Why do I believe? I ask myself.  Why do I, like Merton, continue to make that defiant leap of faith?

     I could point to a conversion experience during college days, a transforming moment that bisected my life into two parts, an age of unbelief and an age of belief.  Yet I know that a skeptic, hearing that story, could propose alternate explanations.

     I could point to shafts of light that have (rarely, I admit) pierced the veil between the visible and invisible worlds.  These, too, the skeptic would dismiss, forcing me to fall back on what the philosopher William James called “the convincingness of unreasoned experience.”

     In my own days of skepticism, I wanted a dramatic interruption from above.  I wanted proof of an unseen reality, one that could somehow be verified.  In my days of faith, such supernatural irruptions seem far less important, in part because I find the materialistic explanations of life inadequate to explain reality.  I have learned to attend to fainter contacts between the seen and unseen worlds.  I sense in romantic love something insufficiently explained by mere biochemical attraction.  I sense in beauty and in nature the marks of a genius creator for which the appropriate response is worship.  Like Jacob, I have at times awoken from a dream to realize, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

     I sense in desire, including sexual desire, marks of a holy yearning for connection.  I sense in pain and suffering a terrible disruption that omnipotent love surely cannot abide forever.  I sense in compassion, generosity, justice, and forgiveness a quality of grace that speaks to me of another world, especially when I visit places marred by their absence.  I sense in Jesus a person who lived those qualities so consistently that the world could not tolerate him, and so silenced and disposed of him.

     I believe not so much because the invisible world impinges on this one, but because the visible world hints, in the ways that move me most, at a lack of completion.

     I once heard a woman give a remarkable account of achievement.  An early feminist, she gained renown in the male-dominated field of endocrinology.  She brushes shoulders with Nobel laureates and world leaders, and has lived as full and rich a life as any I have known.  At the end of her story she said simply, “As I look back, this is what matters.  I have loved and been loved, and all the rest is just background music.”

     Love, too, is why I believe.  At the end of life, what else matters?  “Love never fails,” Paul wrote.  “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  He could only be describing God’s love, for no human love meets that standard of perfection.  What I have tasted of love on this earth convinces me that a perfect love will not be satisfied with the sad tale of this planet, will not rest until evil is conquered and good reigns, will not allow its objects to pass from existence.  Perfect love perseveres until it perfects.

     Jesus’ disciple John brought the two worlds together, in a unity forged through love: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”  Love deems this world worth rescuing.

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Luke 16:31  —  “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Genesis 28:16  —  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

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.

I Corinthians 13:8a  —  Love never fails.

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Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you, O Lord.

–St. Augustine

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

–Mark 9:24

2031) Unanimous

Yankees closer Mariano Rivera tips his cap to

By John Stonestreet and Roberto Rivera, posted February 11, 2019 at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

     Since 1936, 323 players, managers, executives and umpires have been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  What they all have in common is that none of them, not even Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, or Joe DiMaggio, were elected unanimously.

     On Tuesday, that changed.  Pitcher Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees became the first player elected unanimously to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It’s a fitting tribute to the man Esquire magazine dubbed “the Hammer of God,” for his achievements on the mound.

     Now even if you don’t like baseball, you should rejoice with Rivera and his family, because while he may have been God’s “hammer” on the field, he was and remains God’s faithful servant both on and off it.

     Rivera was what is known as a “closer.”  That means he pitches exclusively in those high-pressure situations when the game’s on the line.  He’s expected to “close” the door on the other team.  It might sound simple, but any baseball fan will tell you few pitchers, even the most talented ones, can stand up to that kind of pressure for very long.

     Rivera did it for seventeen seasons.  According to Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, the gap between Rivera and whomever is the second-best closer of all-time is greater than the gap at any other position in baseball history.

     That’s part of the reason one former player called Rivera “the most beloved Yankee,” which, given the franchise’s storied history, is saying a lot.

     But it’s not the only reason.  The other part is Mariano Rivera the man.  The Esquire profile said that “He is modest and mild.  He is neat and quiet, while other closers are not.”  He is regarded as the ultimate “team first” player who summed up his job as “I get the ball, I throw the ball, and then I take a shower.”

     Throughout his career, Rivera was as well known for his Christian faith as for his legendary “cut fastball,” which was virtually unhittable even though hitters knew it was coming.

     In fact, Rivera will tell you that his faith and his fastball are linked.  He claims God gave him the pitch.  In his own words, “I do not spend years searching for this pitch.   I do not ask for it, or pray for it.  All of a sudden it is there, a devastating baseball weapon.”

     As “devastating” as that weapon was during the regular season, it was even more so during the playoffs.  In sixteen post-seasons, Rivera allowed fewer earned runs than the number of men who have walked on the moon.

     Yet he expressed thanks to God for his most high-profile failure, too.  In the 2001 World Series, he gave up the run that cost the Yankees the series, but he pointed out that if the Yankees had won, his teammate Enrique Wilson would have been on a flight that ended up crashing and killing everyone on board.  Since they didn’t win, Wilson took an earlier flight.  “I am glad we lost the World Series,” Rivera said, “because it means that I still have a friend.”

   There’s a lot more I could tell you: from the glove inscribed with Phillipians 4:13 to his many charitable endeavors.       Then there’s the documentary, “Being: Mariano Rivera,” about his last season that aired on Showtime.  In many ways, it was one long testimony to his Christian faith.

     It’s gratifying that the first man to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame is celebrated as much for his character as for his amazing career. It’s even more inspiring that the first man to be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame has never been shy about telling others about the One who made both possible.

     In an era where the word “hero” is either tossed around haphazardly, debased, or made to seem hopelessly out-of-date, the real deal has received the honor he was due, honor he will undoubtedly ascribe to his God.

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Philippians 4:13  —  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Colossians 3:23  —  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “In the same way, 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.