2224) Reluctant Convert (part three of three)

     (continued…)  And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn’t stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon.  And I thought it was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials.  But the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape.  It was as if the people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or something was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling—and it washed over me.

     I began to cry and left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers, under a sky as blue as one of God’s own dreams, and I opened the door to my houseboat, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, “Okay, I quit.”  I took a long deep breath and said out loud, “All right. You can come in.”

     So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.

And here in dust and dirt, O here,

The lilies of his love appear.

     I started to find these lines of George Herbert’s everywhere I turned—in Simone Weil, in Malcolm Muggeridge, and in books of English poetry.

     I was sitting through the sermon now every week and finding that I could not only bear the Jesus talk, but was interested, searching for clues.  I was more and more comfortable with the radical message of peace and equality, with the God in whom Dr. King believed.  I had no big theological thoughts but had discovered that if I said, ‘Hello?’, to God, I could feel God say ‘Hello’ back.

     Finally, one morning in July of 1986, I woke up so sick and in such despair for the umpteenth day in a row that I knew that I was either going to die or have to quit drinking.  I poured a bottle of pinot noir down the sink, and dumped a Nike box full of assorted pills off the side of my houseboat, and entered into recovery with fear and trembling.  I was not sure that I could or even wanted to go one day without drinking or pills or cocaine.  But it turned out that I could and that a whole lot of people were going to help me, with kind eyes and hot cups of bad coffee.

     I was baptized one year after I got sober.  I called Reverend Noel at eight that morning and told him that I really didn’t think I was ready because I wasn’t good enough yet.  Also, I was insane.  My heart was good, but my insides had gone bad.  And he said, “You’re putting the cart before the horse.”  My family and all my closest friends came to church that day to watch as James dipped his hand into the font, bathed my forehead with cool water, and spoke the words.

     Two years later I was pregnant by a man I was dating, but he really didn’t want to be a father at the time.  I was still poor, but friends and the people at my church convinced me that if I decided to have a child, we would be provided for every step of the way.

     In August of 1989 my son was born.  I named him Sam.  He had huge eyes and his father’s straight hair. Three months later he was baptized at St. Andrew…  Sam grew tall and thin and sweet, with huge brown eyes.

     Sam and me were always at St. Andrew.  I think we have missed church only ten times in twelve years.  There would be different pastors along the way, none of them exactly right for us until a few years ago when a tall African-American woman named Veronica came to lead us.  She sings to us sometimes from the pulpit and tells us stories of when she was a child.

     She told us this story just the other day:  When she was about seven, her best friend got lost one day.  The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark.  She was very frightened.  Finally a policeman, stopped to help her.  He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church.  She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, “You could let me out now.  This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”

     And that is why I have stayed so close to mine—because no matter how bad I am feeling, how lost or lonely or frightened, when I see the faces of the people at my church, and hear their voices, I can always find my way home.

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Psalm 73:21-26  — When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

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Revelation 3:20  —  (Jesus said), “Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

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Anne Lamott Quotes

2223) Reluctant Convert (part two of three)

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Anne Lamott  (1954- )

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     (…continued)  I could sing better here than I ever had before.  As part of these people, even though I stayed in the doorway, I did not recognize my voice or know where it was coming from, but sometimes I felt like I could sing forever.

     Eventually, a few months after I started coming, I took a seat in one of the folding chairs, off by myself.  Then the singing enveloped me.  It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart.  There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.

     Something inside me that was stiff and rotting would feel soft and tender.  Somehow the singing wore down all the boundaries and distinctions that kept me so isolated.  Sitting there, standing with them to sing, sometimes so shaky and sick that I felt like I might tip over, I felt bigger than myself, like I was being taken care of, tricked into coming back to life.  But I had to leave before the sermon.

     That April of 1984, in the midst of this experience, Pammy took a fourth urine sample to the lab, and it finally came back positive.  I had published three books by then, but none of them had sold particularly well, and I did not have the money or wherewithal to have a baby.  The father was someone I had just met, who was married, and no one I wanted a real life or baby with.  So Pammy one evening took me in for the abortion, and I was sadder than I’d been since my father died.  When she brought me home that night, I went upstairs to my loft with a pint of Bushmills and some of the codeine a nurse had given me for pain.  I drank until nearly dawn.

     Then the next night I did it again, and the next night, although by then the pills were gone.

     I didn’t go to the flea market the week of my abortion.  I stayed home, and smoked dope and got drunk, and tried to write a little, and went for slow walks along the salt marsh with Pammy.  On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to take a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily.  It did not stop over the next hour.  I was going through a pad every fifteen minutes, and I thought I should call a doctor or Pammy, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten so drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn’t wake someone up and ask for help.  I kept on changing pads, and I got very sober very quickly.  Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, too shaky and sad to have another drink or take a sleeping pill.  I had a cigarette and turned off the light.

     After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner.  I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone.  The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there—of course, there wasn’t.  But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond any doubt that it was Jesus.  I felt him as surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

     And I was appalled.  I thought about my life and my brilliant progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen.  I turned to the wall and said out loud, “I would rather die!”

     But still I felt him just sitting there in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn’t help because that’s not what I was seeing him with.

     Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

     This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood.  But then everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in.  But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever.  So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.  (continued…)

2222) Reluctant Convert (part one of three)

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     A few days ago the Emailmeditation was a piece written by bestselling author Anne Lamott (#2213—“Why I Make Sam Go to Church”).  I have been reading her book Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith (1999).  In it she tells the story of her conversion from one who hated Jesus to one who gave her life to him.  It is an interesting story, and over the next three days I will reprint an edited version of it from pages 144-155 of Traveling Mercies.

     Anne Lamott and I are the same age, but that is about all we have in common.  I grew up in a stable family; she grew up in a chaotic home.  My parents were conservative Republicans; hers were Communist hippies.  We were very involved in church; her father hated Jesus, the church, and anything religious.  I used alcohol very little and never used drugs; she began experimenting with both in junior high school and was addicted to drugs and alcohol for many years.  By the age of 25 I was graduated from seminary, married with two children, and working.  At the age of 30, Anne’s life was a complete mess and she finally entered treatment.  I have always been a Christian.  Anne resisted Jesus with all her being, until she could no longer resist, as this story will tell.

     Sometime after the age of 30 Anne came to believe in Jesus and was baptized, so now we have that in common.  But there are many different ways to be a Christian, and our beliefs and practices are not very similar.  We both want to follow Jesus, but we have very different understandings of what that looks like.  Anne belongs to a very liberal church, mine is traditional.  My theology is orthodox, Anne’s not so much.  Her faith inspires her to be a liberal political activist; my faith leads me towards more conservative political positions. 

     But we both believe in Jesus, we both go to worship every week, and we are both a part of God’s big, wonderfully diverse family.  There is much in Anne Lamott’s writing that I do not like, but I am glad that she has Jesus in her heart and that Jesus graciously forgives us all as we so miserably fail to follow him as we ought.

     Here then is the story of how Jesus got a hold of a reluctant Anne Lamott.

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     In l984 I was living in a small apartment on a houseboat berthed at the north end of Sausalito, on San Francisco Bay.  I was almost thirty when I moved in, and I lived for the next four years in a space about ten feet square, with a sleeping loft.

     I got pregnant in April, right around my thirtieth birthday, but was so loaded every night that the next morning’s first urine was too diluted for a pregnancy test to prove positive.  Every other day, my friend Pammy would come by and take a small bottle of pee to the lab that was near her home.  I did not have a car.  I had had a very stern conversation with myself a year before, in which I said that I had to either stop drinking or get rid of the car.  This was a real no-brainer.  I got around on foot, and by bus and friend.

     Marin City is the ghetto in this luscious affluent county, built in a dusty bowl surrounded by low green hills on the other side of the freeway from where my houseboat was.  The town is filled with families—lots of little kids and powerful mothers.  There are too many drugs and guns, there is the looming and crummy government housing called the Projects, and there are six churches in a town of two thousand people who are mostly black.  On the weekends, the gigantic lot where the Greyhound bus depot used to be was transformed into one of the country’s biggest flea markets.  Every square foot was taken up with booths and trucks and beach umbrellas and tables and blankets and racks displaying household wares and tools and crafts and clothes, much of it stolen, most of it going for a song—hundreds of sellers, thousands of buyers, children and dogs and all of us stirring up the dust.

     This is where I liked to be when I was hungover or coming down off a cocaine binge, here in the dust with all these dusty people, all this liveliness and clutter and color, things for sale to cheer me up, and greasy food that would slip down my throat.

     If I happened to be there between eleven and one on Sundays, I could hear gospel music coming from a church right across the street.  It was called St. Andrew Presbyterian, and it looked homely and impoverished, a ramshackle building with a cross on top, sitting on a small parcel of land with a few skinny pine trees.  But the music wafting out was so pretty that I would stop and listen.  I knew a lot of the hymns from the times I’d gone to church with my grandparents and from the albums we’d had of spirituals.  Finally, I began stopping in at St. Andrew from to time, standing in the doorway to listen to the songs.  I couldn’t believe how run-down it was, but it had a choir of five black women and one rather Amish-looking white man making all that glorious noise, and a congregation of thirty people or so, radiating kindness and warmth.  During the time when people hugged and greeted each other, various people would come back to where I stood to shake my hand or try to hug me; but I was frozen and stiff.  After this, Scripture was read, and then the minister would preach, and it would be all about social injustice—and Jesus, which would be enough to send me running back out into the flea market.

     I went back to St Andrew about once a month.  No one tried to con me into sitting down or staying.  I always left before the sermon.  I loved singing, even about Jesus, but I just didn’t want to be preached at about him.  To me, Jesus made about as much sense as Scientology.  But the church smelled wonderful, like it was composed of warmth and faith and peace.  There were always children running around or being embraced, and a gorgeous stick-thin deaf black girl signing to her mother, hearing the songs and the Scripture through her mother’s flashing fingers.  The radical old women of the congregation often brought huge tubs of great food for the homeless families living at the shelter near the canal.  I loved this.  But it was the singing that pulled me in and split me wide open.  (continued…)

2221) Managing God’s Money

Well done, good and faithful servant.png

From four readings from Rick Warren’s Daily Hope daily on-line devotional, posted January 23, 24, 25, and 27, 2020 at:  http://www.pastorrick.com

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How to Be a Wise Manager

     You don’t really own anything.  What you think you own is really on loan.  You didn’t own it before you were born.  You’re not going to own it after you die.  It all belongs to God, and he just loans it to you for a few decades.

     Jesus told a story in Luke 16 about a man who let a manager take care of his property.  We’re all in management.  Everything you have is a gift from God, and he gives it to you for a while to steward.  He wants to see that you’re going to wisely manage what belongs to him.  God wants to see if you’ll be a good manager of his property.

     The first verse in this story says, “Once there was a rich man who had a manager to take care of his business” (Luke 16:1 NCV).  But the manager was wasting his master’s possessions.

     Anytime you waste money, you’re wasting God’s money.  Understanding that truth will change the way you buy.

     Seeing your money as God’s will change the way you think.  Seeing yourself as just a manager and not the owner will change your life and allow you to make the most of what you’ve been given.

Three Ways God Tests You Through Your Finances

     God uses money to test you.  He doesn’t just automatically give his blessings to anybody.  He tests you first to see if you’re responsible.  Before God gives you spiritual power, he gives you material possessions.  If you’re not managing money well, then why in the world should he give you the stuff that really matters?

     God’s favorite tool to test you is your finances, and he’s looking for three specific things.

     Money shows what you love most.  You’re going to give your most time and money to whatever you love most—and your calendar and bank statement will prove it.  Jesus says, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth . . . Store your treasures in heaven . . . Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6:19-21 NLT).  Wherever you want your heart to be, put your money there, and you’ll get interested in it.

     Money shows what you trust most.  It shows what you have faith in.  Are you trusting in money or God for security?  Are you trusting in money or God for your happiness?  Proverbs 11:28 says, “Trust in your money and down you go!  Trust in God and flourish as a tree!” (TLB).

     Money shows if God can trust you.  Unmanaged finances are a symptom of an unmanaged life.  God is looking to see how well you manage material things before he gives you spiritual blessing.  The Bible says, “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11 NIV).

     There is a direct connection between maturity and money.  There’s a direct connection between spiritual power and how you handle possessions.  There is a direct connection between God’s blessing in your life and what you do with your bucks.

     Don’t miss the connection.

What’s the Best Way to Use Your Money?

     The best use of your money is helping people get into heaven.  Jesus says, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9 NIV).

     What is Jesus not saying here?  He’s not saying you can buy your way into heaven, because you can’t.  Jesus already paid that price on the cross.  He’s not saying you can purchase your salvation, because you can’t. It’s free.  It’s a gift. It’s by grace.

     What he’s saying is to use your money to build relationships—spiritual friendships—that will go on and on for eternity.  Use your affluence for good influence.

     When you use your money to help other people meet Jesus, you make friends for eternity, and you gain rewards for eternity.

     Imagine: One day you’re going to die.  When you get to heaven, you might encounter a hundred people there, standing at the entrance to heaven, clapping and cheering and saying, “We’ve been waiting for you.  We’re so glad you’ve arrived.  We’re here because you spent some money to tell us the Good News.  We’re your friends for life—no, eternity—because we’re in debt to you.  If it weren’t for the way you used your money, we wouldn’t have heard how to get to heaven.”

     Are you using any of your money to do that?  Is anybody going to be in heaven because of how you chose to spend your money?

     When you buy a Bible and give it to somebody who doesn’t have one, you’ve just stored up treasure in heaven.  When you support a ministry that shares the Good News with people around the world, you have invested in eternity.  When you help build a church that guides people toward knowing God in a personal way, you have stored up treasure in heaven.

     That is the highest and best use of your money, because you’re sending it on ahead.

     You can’t take it with you, but you can send it ahead to heaven.  How?  By investing in people who will one day be there with you.

What to Do if You Want to Hear ‘Well Done’

    One day there’s going to be an audit on your life.  On that day, you will have to answer for not only how you spent your money but also how you used everything God gave you.  What did you do with what you were given—your talent, your relationships, your opportunities, your mind, your creativity, your contacts, your time?  What did you do with what God gave you?

     God’s church is filled with people at every level of economic status—people who are very poor, others who are very rich, and everyone in between.  But it doesn’t matter how much or how little you’ve got.  What matters is what you do with what you’ve been given and if God can trust you with more.

     Your time as a manager on earth is going to end one day, and you will give an account for what was entrusted to you.  The Bible says, “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God” (Romans 14:12 NIV).

     You’re not going to live on earth forever.  You weren’t meant to.  But God has entrusted certain assets to you as a manager while you’re here.  He is watching you and testing you and wants to see how you handle what you’ve been given.

     What are you doing with the mind he gave you?  What are you doing with the health he gave you?  What are you doing with the freedom he gave you?  Are you spending it all on yourself?  Do you believe the whole purpose of life is to live for yourself?

     You can decide now what you want your life to be about, and then start making choices that show God you want to live for what really matters.  When you use your resources to make an eternal difference, you will hear God say to you someday, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

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O Lord, who hast warned us that thou wilt require much of those to whom much is given; and who in thy infinite love hast entrusted to us both the knowledge of thy truth and the gifts of thy bounty:  Help us to use them as good stewards, giving liberally and working diligently, that we may share in bringing all people to thy truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958, #75, (adapted)

2220) In Love With the Feeling of Being in Love

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T. S. Eliot and Emily Hale

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     T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) was one of the great poets of the twentieth century.  He was also a respected essayist, playwright, and social critic.  He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.  He became a Christian in 1927, and became an articulate and powerful defender of the faith.

     In 1915 Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood.  It was not a happy marriage.  Vivienne suffered from many ailments, physically and mentally.  They separated in 1932, and though Eliot visited her only twice in the next 15 years, they never divorced.  Vivienne’s brother eventually had to commit her to a mental hospital where she died in 1947.

     From 1930 to 1956 Eliot carried on a passionate love affair with Emily Hale, an old girl-friend from graduate school in 1914.  He wrote her over 1,000 letters and they would often spend the summers together, staying at a cabin with friends.  Eliot says that the relationship never became sexual, but admitted that it was very much an affair of the heart that went on while he no longer had any emotional involvement with his wife.  (Not everyone believes the part about the relationship never becoming sexual.)  Eliot destroyed all of his letters from Hale, but Hale kept all 1,131 from Eliot to her.

     Hale thought they might get married after Eliot’s wife died in 1947.  They did not.  The letters from Eliot to Hale ended in 1956.  Eliot married someone else in 1957.  Emily Hale donated all of her letters from Eliot to the Princeton University Library where they were to remain sealed until 50 years after her death, which came in 1969.  T. S. Eliot was not happy about that, and wrote a note that he wanted released also at that time.

     The letters and Eliot’s note were released last month.  Many who appreciated Eliot’s profound insights into Christianity are disappointed with this whole ordeal.  Today’s meditation is one interesting response.  The author is Dustin Messer, pastor at All Saints Church in Dallas, Texas (posted January 23, 2020 at http://www.breakpoint.org).

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Love in the Wasteland:  T. S. Eliot’s Hopeless Love Affair by Dustin Messer:

     We ended 2019 thinking the Taylor Swift Cats movie would be the biggest embarrassment to the legacy of T. S. Eliot.  We began 2020 wishing it were.

     As you may have seen, Emily Hale donated the letters written to her by T. S. Eliot to the Princeton University Library on the condition that they only be made public once they’d both been dead 50 years.  Along with their release this month, an explanation from T. S. Eliot was provided to give context to their (non-sexual, but very real) affair.

     In his mea culpa—which is earnest, beautiful, and sad—Eliot explains that he came to realize that he wasn’t in love with Hale, he was in love with the feeling of being in love with her he experienced as a young man.  At one point he says:

I came to see that my love for Emily was the love of a ghost for a ghost, and that the letters I had been writing to her were the letters of a hallucinated man, a man vainly trying to pretend to himself that he was the same man that he had been in 1914.

     As a pastor, I’ve walked along side many men and women who blew up their lives with an affair.  In each case, they thought they were doing it because of a girl or a guy.  But Eliot is right, as he so often is:  it’s never about the other person, it’s about the feeling that other person gives them, the feeling of youth.

     As Milan Kundera put it in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” this sort of love is “the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.”  But, here’s the thing:  God puts an angel with a sword outside of Eden precisely because He knew Adam and Eve would want to go back—there was eternal life back there, after all (and their punishment was that they would not receive eternal life in this world).

     We live in an age which particularly idolizes youth-culture, but the temptation to relive childhood is common to all man.  Life is behind us, death is before us, why not turn around?

     Solomon encourages us not to pursue those things associated with youth (winking the eye, a quick temper), but rather the “crown of grey hair” gained through righteous living (Prov. 16:30-32). Don’t chase adolescence, strive for maturity.

Indeed, the whole of Scripture is future-oriented—what you’re looking for is in the future, so move ahead.  Don’t go back to Eden.  Don’t go back to Egypt.  Don’t look back.  Put your hand to the plow, the Celestial City is just ahead.

     But that’s not the whole story, of course.  Before Adam and Even taste of life fully again, they have to die.  To get to the Promised Land, Israel has to follow God’s appointed leader down to a watery grave.  To experience resurrection, we have to do the same; we have to take up our cross.

     You see, nostalgia is often little more than thinly disguised doubt.  To seek out the euphoria of youth is to question,  “Is there really morning on the other side of this dawn?”  Bored and ungrateful for the provision God has given us in the moment, doubtful of the milk and honey in our future, we lust after the days gone by wen we were young.

     When preaching on the battle against sin, Thomas Chalmers stressed the “expulsive power of a new affection.”  That is, to stop loving what we ought not to love, we need to fall deeper in love that which we ought to love.  Until the gospel becomes believable and beautiful to us, no amount of gritting our teeth and doing the right thing for its own sake will do.  Until we really believe there’s a treasure in the field, we won’t sell all that we have to buy it.

     You may recall the spies whom Joshua sent into Canaan before God’s people took possession of it.  They brought back fruit from the land so all the people could see it, and eat it, and have their spirits buoyed by it.  What they had in part, they’d one day have in whole.

     The Holy Spirit does nothing less for us today.  He’s bringing the fruit of New Creation—in glimpses, in tastes—to strengthen us, to remind us of where we’re headed, to sustain us as we sojourn.

     Life is behind us and death is ahead of us, true, but one day we’ll be able to say the reverse:  death is behind us, now there’s only life ahead.

     In perhaps my favorite Eliot poem, The Rock, he speaks of the modern man growing closer to the dust and further from God, “Nearness to death, no nearer to God.”  Ironically, by avoiding the grave we fall into it, and by walking confidently into the pit we escape it.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ will find it.

     So, don’t turn around.  Stay faithful.  Look ahead.  Age.  Mature.  Turn grey.  Die.  Resurrect.

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“Life is short.  Have an affair.” 

–The disgraceful slogan for the sordid Ashley Madison hook-up website for married people.

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“Life is short.  Endure affliction; be faithful unto the end; and you will be saved.” 

–New Testament

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Revelation 2:10b  —  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.

Hebrews 3:14  —  For we are all partners with Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Proverbs 16:31  —  Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.

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O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:  Increase upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Thomas Cranmer  (1489-1556)

2219) Lord, Open My Eyes

By author Lee Strobel in his weekly blog Investigating the Faith with Lee Strobel (January 25, 2020)

     “In a best-selling book, Generation X guru Douglas Coupland tracks a young man through a troubled era.  He’s remorseful over his mistakes.  His marriage has stagnated.  He’s ensnared in a meaningless job.  Instead of deep friendships, he endures what he calls “halfway relationships.”  He’s worried that he doesn’t feel life the way he used to.  He peers into his future with uncertainty.

     The book’s title: Life after God.

     But after 358 pages of aimlessness and frustration, this was his conclusion:

Now — here is my secret: I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you read these words.  My secret is that I need God — that I am sick and can no longer make it alone.  I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

     Like Coupland’s character, maybe you have a secret, too.  Perhaps your own circumstances are causing you to conclude that maybe — just maybe — you need God to breathe hope and life into your world.

     Or maybe you need him to knock the crust off a heart that’s corroded with self-interest and cynicism.  Or maybe you need him because . . . well, to be honest, you’re not sure why.  You just sense that there’s got to be more to your existence than a job, three meals a day, and the gnawing feeling that something’s missing.

     So you’ve been casually checking out Christianity.  Nothing too serious yet.  You’ve leafed through a book or two.  Questions are swirling through your mind.  You’d like to get at the truth, but you’re not sure how to — and you’re a little afraid of what you might find.

     Or possibly you already know a lot about the idea of God, but you’re realizing that you really don’t know him.  You’ve wrestled with the concept of a deity yet never embraced Jesus himself.  You went to church as a youngster and even went through religion classes, but they seemed to have numbed you toward God more than sensitized you toward him.  If someone asked, you’d say that you were a religious person, although the truth is this: a heartfelt, life-changing, soul-satisfying faith has always eluded you.

This prayer is for you.  Seventeen words that can start a change in your life:

“God, open my eyes to who you really are, and then I’ll open my life to you.”

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Follow this link to subscribe to receive Investigating Faith with Lee Strobel.

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II KIngs 6:17a  —  Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”  Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes…

Mark 8:25  —  Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes.  Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Luke 24:30-31a  —  When (Jesus) was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

John 12:20-21  —  Among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

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Open the eyes of my heart, Lord.

2218) Napalm Girl

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By Randy Alcorn, posted January 24, 2020 at:  http://www.epm.org
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     One of the best-known photographs from the Vietnam War is a Pulitzer Prize–winning picture of a young burn victim running in terror, arms outstretched, after a napalm bomb was dropped on her village.  After months of hospitalization and multiple surgeries, nine-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc (1963- ) returned to her family.

     What doctors couldn’t heal, Kim Phuc says, was her heart: “The anger inside me was like a hatred high as a mountain.”

     But God reached out to Kim Phuc.  She found a Bible and talked with a believer who invited her to church, where Kim Phuc chose to trust in Christ: “Jesus helped me learn to forgive my enemies.”

     Fourteen years later, while speaking in Washington, DC, she met John Plummer, who had helped coordinate the air strike on her childhood village.

     John wrote of their meeting, “She held out her arms to me and embraced me.  All I could say was, ‘I’m sorry; I’m so sorry,’ over and over again.  At the same time she was saying, ‘It’s all right; it’s all right; I forgive; I forgive.’”

     Today, Kim Phuc heads up KIM Foundation International Its mission is “to help heal the wounds suffered by innocent children and to restore hope and happiness to their lives.”

     Kim Phuc’s story demonstrates Romans 8:28 in action: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  Now, no translation of that verse says “each thing by itself is good,” but “all things work together for good,” and not on their own, but under God’s sovereign hand.  I needn’t say, “It’s good,” if my house burns down, I’m robbed and beaten, or my child dies—or in Kim Phuc’s case, being terribly burned in childhood and suffering a lifetime of physical effects as a result.  But God, in His wisdom, uses our circumstances to produce something wonderful—Christlikeness—for His glory and our ultimate joy.  God’s children have “been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

     Watch Kim Phuc share her story in this touching video:

     You can also read her testimony :

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/may/napalm-girl-kim-phuc-phan-thi-fire-road.html

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Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.

Ephesians 1:11  —  All things are done according to God’s plan and decision; and God chose us to be his own people in union with Christ because of his own purpose, based on what he had decided from the very beginning.

Genesis 50:19-20  —  Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

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O God of love, who has sent us a new commandment through your Son Jesus Christ, that we should love one another, even as you have loved us, the wayward and unworthy, and has given your Son for our life and salvation; grant to us, your servants, in all the time of our mortal life, a mind forgetful of past ill will, a pure conscience, sincere thoughts, and a heart to love and forgive others.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship, (Presbyterian Church, USA), Westminster, 1906, (altered), originally from The Liturgy of St. Cyril (fourth century).

2217) “No One Ever Spoke Like This Man”

Image result for Jesus rembrandt images

Head of Christ, Rembrandt, 1648

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By Jon Bloom, January 16, 2020, at:  http://www.dgm.org

     “Why did you not bring him?”  The Pharisees were exasperated that the officers had not arrested and delivered Jesus yet.  How did the officers explain their failure?  “No one ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46).

     By the time we get to John chapter seven, Jesus had made himself a serious religious and political issue in Palestine.  Everywhere he went, he created controversy.  Some people said he was demonized with paranoia (John 7:20).  Some seriously wondered if he might be the Prophet Moses foretold (John 7:40; Deuteronomy 18:15–18), or even the Christ (John 7:31, 41).  Others said the Christ hypothesis couldn’t be true, since obviously the Christ would come from Bethlehem, and Jesus was from Galilee (John 7:42) — and of course no prophet ever came from there (John 7:52).

     One thing that helped fuel the rumors among the crowds was the fact that, in spite of all Jesus was saying, the Jewish leaders had not arrested him yet.  Was this a signal that even they thought Jesus might be the Christ (John 7:26)?

     When the chief priests and Pharisees caught wind of this, they decided to snuff out that rumor by arresting him, so they sent officers to do just that (John 7:32).  The officers, however, returned empty-handed.  When the Jewish leaders asked them why, the officers responded, “No one ever spoke like this man.”

The Enigma of History

     The echo of that sentence has reverberated down through history.  No one ever spoke like this man.  The proof of its veracity is in the pudding of the historical result: the words of Jesus have shaped the course of world history more than any other human voice.

     Observed as a historical phenomenon, it is the strangest thing.  How did Jesus get to be the most famous man in history?  Two thousand years later, no one’s words have been read more, studied more, quoted more, debated more, pondered more, written and lectured about more, translated into more languages, fueled more literacy efforts around the world, and shaped more diverse cultures than the words of Jesus of Nazareth.

     Over the centuries, many nonreligious theories have been proffered for the tenacious, massive, increasingly global influence of this wandering, first-century, Jewish rabbi with peasant roots and ordinary disciples.  None do him justice.  Political, institutional, economic, social, cultural, psychological explanations all prove overly simplistic.  They don’t explain why people find Jesus so compelling.

     When you look at all he said and taught, what did Jesus say that has been so historically profound?  He said he was God.

He Claimed to Be God

     Many have tried to argue that he didn’t claim this.  The attempts are futile.  The New Testament, the most reliable record we have of Jesus’s words, is unequivocal on this assertion.  Any honest reading is unmistakable.  And Jesus’s claim to divinity is the only reason he has been and remains such an incredible force in world history.  Listen to just a few of his unparalleled statements.

     The woman at the well said to Jesus, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Jesus responded, “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:25–26). Jesus knew he was the prophesied Jewish Messiah.

     When Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  And what did Jesus say to that?  “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:15–17).  Jesus not only affirmed his Messiahship, but he affirmed the title “Son of God,” and Peter’s use of this term is clearly and uniquely divine.

     If that’s not convincing, this ought to be.  When being interrogated by the High Priest during the infamous midnight trial, when his answer would either lead toward or away from crucifixion, he was asked directly “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”  Jesus responded, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61–62).  Everyone in that room knew exactly what Jesus was referring to: the divine Son of Man prophesied in Daniel 7:13–14, which is why they called it blasphemy.

     And the apostle John quotes a string of audacious “I am” statements Jesus made:

–“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger.” (John 6:35)
–“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
–“You are from below; I am from above.  You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23–24)
–“I am the door of the sheep. . . . If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:7, 9)
–“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.” (John 13:13)
–“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

     Has anyone ever spoken like this man?

The Greatest Claim Ever Made

     But perhaps the most powerful “I am” statement Jesus ever made, the one that captures the single greatest reason he has influenced the world like no other man, is this one:

I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this? (John 11:25–26)

     Who ever said such a thing?  Why does anyone listen to such preposterous words?  It’s not wish-fulfillment.  Mass movements of people don’t follow a crazy man.  There is only one reason such words ever gained historical traction: Jesus’s tomb was empty that first Easter Sunday morning.  Too many people personally witnessed him alive (1 Corinthians 15:6), too many of them paid with their lives for claiming to have witnessed him alive, and too many people throughout history have encountered Jesus as a real, living presence and power, and found eternal life in his words (John 6:68).

     Jesus claimed to be God.  He prophesied that he would be killed and rise from the dead three days later.  He was killed and his tomb was empty three days later.  And hundreds of witnesses who had nothing material to gain (and everything to lose) by claiming his resurrection, claimed it was so.

Who Do You Say That He Is?

     The brief snapshot we see in John 7 captures the controversial effect Jesus of Nazareth had on those who came in direct or indirect contact with him.  And this is still the controversial effect he has on those who come in contact with him today.  Some still think him demonic, some think him delusional, some think him distorted by his biographers and early followers, and some think him divine.

     But one stubborn thing is, Jesus doesn’t go away.  We keep talking about him, much to the ire of certain powers-that-be.  Over and over people keep trying to bury Jesus, and he keeps refusing to stay dead.  He is still speaking and his words keep making people alive.

     Just a handful of disciples heard him say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).  How audacious did such a statement sound the day it was spoken?  How much more ridiculous did they seem as he hung on a cross just days later?  Yet now, two thousand years later, we read these words in the light of the strange, unexpected, unrivaled impact Jesus has made on history.  It must make each and every one of us wonder, forcing us to answer his question for ourselves: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

     Say what you like about Jesus, one thing is true: no one ever spoke like this man.

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John 7:46  —  The guards answered, “Nobody has ever talked the way this man does!”

John 14:6  —  Jesus answered him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.”

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

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer

2216) American Indian Chief Meets British Royalty

Image result for Teyet Ramar

Chief White Feather  (also named Teyet Ramar)

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“King George VI, Chief White Feather, & Beverly Shea” by Arthur Eedle (1931- ), posted December 12, 2008, at:  http://www.prophetictelegraph.co.uk

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     When Franklin Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in 1939, the significance of the invitation did not go unnoticed.  No reigning British Monarch had ever set foot on American soil, not even in colonial times.  Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, the United States and Great Britain oftentimes experienced tense relations.  Roosevelt’s invitation to the King carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation.  With Europe poised on the brink of war, Franklin Roosevelt realized the necessity of fostering closer ties between the two democracies.

     Americans heartily welcomed England’s royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939.  Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they traveled throughout the city.  In Washington, the couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit.  There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.

     The evening’s program contained examples of traditional American music, and among those invited was a well-loved Indian baritone by the name of Chief White Feather.  He began the program by singing the British National Anthem, followed by Rule Britannia.

     Who then was this Indian?  Chief White Feather (1908-1957) was the great-grandson of Sitting Bull by his fourth wife.  His mother was a Christian and taught him about the Lord when he was small.  However, the results came years later.  At one time, his father traveled with a circus with his children.  Somewhere in their travels, contacts were made that resulted in Chief receiving musical training.  He had a wonderful baritone voice and became a professional opera singer.

     Though his professional life was going well, his personal life was full of grief.  Two sons were killed in an auto accident and his marriage was failing.  He tried to commit suicide by jumping off a moving commuter train in New York City.  Severely injured, including a broken back, he was taken to a hospital.  He was semi-conscious while the emergency room doctor worked on him.  The doctor spoke of things his mother had taught him as a child—God loved him, Jesus died for his sins.  His mind was foggy and he couldn’t respond to the doctor, but it all came back to him as he laid in his hospital bed.  He said yes to his Savior in his hospital room.  God miraculously healed his wounds completely.

     He subsequently sought Christian counselling and entered Bible college.  After that, he began an evangelistic ministry throughout the U.S. and overseas, using his wonderful voice to praise the Lord.  He used music from famous operatic arias to present the Gospel.  An accomplished organist, he often accompanied himself as he sang.

     And so, on that memorable evening, President Roosevelt had invited him to the White House to begin the musical entertainment for the Royal couple.  The first two items, the National Anthem and Rule Britannia,  were more or less expected, as a tribute to the King and Queen, but after the applause, instead of sitting down, he began singing again, much to the surprise of those gathered, because this was not part of the program.  The song he chose had been very popular in Christian meetings since Beverly Shea had composed the music in 1933. It captivated the audience, as he sang the words of a most touching Gospel appeal.

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands,
I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand.

Than to be a king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway,
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than world-wide fame,
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out of the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs,
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

     Who then was the composer?  At the age of 23 George Beverly Shea  (1909-2013), had a hard decision to make.  With his wonderful deep voice he could accept a job offer in a secular singing position in New York City with a great salary and wide respect; or he could continue singing in churches and for Christian radio programs.  While sitting at the family piano, he started to prepare a special hymn for the Sunday service.  But suddenly, on the piano, he became aware of a poem by Mr. Rhea F. Miller, (written in 1922) which had been placed there by his mother Bev, who was becoming anxious about her son’s future.  Looking at the words, he was convicted by the mention of “world-wide fame” and realized that his career lay in the direction of Christian music, rather than the secular world.  Declaring to the Lord his intentions, he immediately began to compose music for the poem and used the song that same morning in his father’s church service.  He has subsequently shared his song, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” with audiences around the world, especially in connection with Billy Graham and Cliff Barrows, bringing many to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and convicting many others of their worldly life-style.  

     Chief White Feather had been greatly moved by this song, and determined to sing it in the White House.  The reaction to his singing was not the only spectacular event of that memorable evening, because the Chief was rewarded later by receiving the King’s handshake.  He then bent down and asked the Queen, knowing that Queen Elizabeth was a religious woman, “Your Majesty, I would like to ask you, ‘Do you know Jesus as your personal Savior?’”  Without hesitation, she looked at him and said, “Some people know about God, some know about Christ, but the Lord Jesus is the Possessor of my heart. . . . My husband is also a believer.”  Then with a smile on his face, the King of  England said, “I’d rather have Jesus, too.”

     And that concludes this little bit of history.  I have pieced it together from quite a number of articles from the Internet, some of which are slightly contradictory, and therefore I cannot guarantee that it is completely correct, but I believe the essence of it is true.

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Image result for Teyet Ramar

East Lawn Palms Cemetery, Tucson, Arizona

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Philippians 3:7-10  —  All those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ’s sake.  Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him.  I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law.  I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith.  All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell; by Stephen Schwartz, based on a prayer by St. Richard of Chichester (1197-1253)

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ANOTHER MARTYR:  Nigerian Christian pastor Lawan Andimi, abducted by Islamic extremists on January 3, 2020, has been executed by those extremists.  Andimi was the subject of the January 20, 2020 Emailmeditation.  He was killed that afternoon.

2215) What is it All About?

Humans were created different– to wonder and to ask.  That is a good question– What is it all about?  Is there any more to life than ‘eat, survive, reproduce’?  Who says?

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A story from the website of a course called Christianity Explored.  More stories (and questions and answers about Christianity) can be viewed at:

http://www.christianityexplored.org

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A young woman from London describes her faith journey:

     I got into Tai Chi and Yoga, and then into things like Buddhism and meditation and all different kinds of New Age things.  I was just taking all the nice bits of all the different kinds of religion, and they really do speak into your life and the issues that you have.  I wanted to do more of that, so I went to an inter-faith seminary where you learn about the five major religions, and you try and put them all together, and see if we can all live nicely together.  And that was great.

      While I was there I made a friend.  Then she got breast cancer and was dying.  She asked me to help do her funeral, so we got together to think about that.  She wanted the funeral to say something to her family about her spirituality and what that meant to her and where she was going.  So we started thinking about how we would put that all together.  But then we realized that we had Jesus taking her to heaven, and then as a Buddhist she was being reincarnated and having another life, and as a Taoist she was going to become some sort of a spirit– and we just couldn’t make it hang together.  Five days before you die is no time to realize that you don’t know what’s happening.

     My brother is a Christian, and while I was looking into all the New Age beliefs I would go to church with him, and that was okay.  Christianity was fine with me too, along with everything else.  My brother would listen to all the things I had to say about my New Age beliefs, and he was really patient with me.  He would just say “I think there is more.”  After a while I began to realize that he knew Jesus as a real person, and he had something that I didn’t.

     I went to a course in London called Christianity Explored, and we started reading the Bible.  I realized that I had an opinion about the Bible, but I had never read it.  When I did, it was great to learn that Jesus was a real and living person who loved me.  It was such a relief, and made all the difference in the world to know that he was the way and the truth and the life.  I couldn’t ignore it any more.

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Exodus 20:3  —  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

John 14:1-6  —  (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Acts 4:12  —  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 17:22-23  —  Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:  “People of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious.  For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:  To an Unknown God.  So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship— and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

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Lord Jesus, give us the grace to follow you, the Way, to learn from you, the Truth, and to live in you, the Life.  

–Erasmus