2253) The Temptation of Christ

Luke 4:1-13  — Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.  He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.  The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.  For it is written:  “‘He will command his angels concerning you  to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.

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     Jesus is suffering.  First of all, he is in the desert wilderness—a barren, desolate, hot, and dangerous place to be.  Second, there is no one with him.  He has been alone out there for forty days.  And third, he has not eaten for that entire time and is hungry.  In that weakened and vulnerable state, the devil comes to him.

     But before we look at the temptation, we should ask why Jesus is in such a terrible predicament.  Did he take a wrong turn and get lost unintentionally?  Did bad people take him out there to die?  Why must Jesus suffer so much, or to use the title of an old book, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?  Jesus was the best person who ever lived; perfect and sinless in every way.  Why all the suffering, both here at the beginning of his ministry, and then even so much more at the end of his life, dying that terrible death on the cross?

     The answer is in the first verse of the text.  It says there that Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Spirit, by God Himself.  God was making him suffer.  God will do that, you know, if that suffering will, in the end, serve some greater purpose.  The devil also causes suffering, and some suffering we bring on ourselves, and other people can cause us to suffer.  There are many possible sources of our suffering, so we should not ask every time something bad happens to us, “Why are you doing this to me, God?”  But neither do we want to decide ahead of time that God is never involved in our trials and tribulations.  God is always involved in everything, and if he doesn’t directly cause the trouble, he certainly chooses to allow it, and can help us learn from it. 

     When he was a young man, early American preacher Jonathan Edwards wrote out several resolutions to guide his conduct in life.  One of these resolutions was:  “Resolved:  after all afflictions to ask myself how I am the better by them, and to see what good I might have gained by the troubles I have endured.”  That is a good way to approach, endure, rise above, and learn from our suffering.  Instead of blaming God for our troubles, we can ask how we may use them to grow closer to God.

      Jesus is enduring these forty days of suffering in the desert because God the Father Himself is putting him through it.  Why would God do that?  Part of the answer can be found in Hebrews 5:8: “Although he (Jesus) was a son, he learned obedience by what the suffered, and once made perfect, he became the source of salvation for all who obey Him.”  It doesn’t say Jesus had ever disobeyed God.  He never did.  But it does seem to say that Jesus had to suffer in order to learn and be made stronger; perhaps for a deeper kind of obedience, the kind of obedience that in three years would enable him to endure the suffering he would face on the cross.

     The devil begins by attacking Jesus in his weakness caused by his hunger, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

     That seems harmless enough, and Jesus had the power to do it.  Later on in his ministry he would feed thousands of people with just a few loaves and a couple fish.  What would be wrong with turning a stone into a loaf of bread?  No one would be hurt and someone would be helped.  Jesus would be helped, and he needed it.  Besides, what good could he do for anyone if he starved to death out there in the wilderness?  After forty days he was probably getting close to that point.  It would be easy to rationalize giving in to that temptation.  If Jesus was going to save the whole world from their sins, he was going to have to first make it out of the desert.

     But there is a always a deeper level to our temptations.  The devil isn’t just trying to get Jesus to make a lunch, he is trying to get him to switch sides.  If God had led Jesus into the desert, it was up to God to get him out of there.  But the devil was trying to lead Jesus in another direction.  It was as if the devil was saying, “Look Jesus, you have been doing what God says long enough now, and look where it has gotten you—nowhere, and you are almost dead.  Now for once, try doing what I say.  You have the power.  Do what I say and you will be better off.  Food is good.  There is no law against eating.  Go ahead Jesus, and do what I say.”

    But it wasn’t a matter of getting something to eat.  It was a matter of who Jesus was going to obey.  Without hesitation Jesus said, quoting the words of Moses, “Man does not live on bread alone.”  There are more important things in life than food, things even more important than life itself.  God was most important, and Jesus would not disobey God, even it meant continuing to starve.  Jesus not only always refused to do the wrong thing; he also refused to do a very good thing in the wrong way or for the wrong reason.

     The second temptation is described:  “The devil then led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  And the devil said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.  If you worship me, it will all be yours.”  This has been interpreted in many ways over the years, but anyone who wants to say anything about it has to deal first of all with the devil’s claim that all those kingdoms of the world are his to give away.  They aren’t, of course, and it comes as no surprise to anyone to see that here and everywhere else in the Bible, the devil is a liar.  The lesson for us is to keep in mind that the devil also tempts us with such ‘deceits and empty promises’ to use the words of an old prayer.

     The devil has no blessings of his own to give, but works his evil by tempting us to approach the gifts we receive from God in all the wrong ways.  Instead of giving thanks to the Giver, we are tempted to focus only on the gifts, expecting to receive more from such gifts than they can ever deliver.  So we come to expect that marriage or money or the new job or the new home or the cabin in the mountains will finally make us happy and solve everything.  But nothing ever does the trick.  Only faith in God can, in the end, solve everything.  But the devil tempts us to trust in the gifts and not the Giver, and tempts us to be not grateful, but resentful when the gifts do not satisfy.  The devil has nothing of his own to give us, but he can be very successful at tempting us to be led away from God by the very gifts and blessings God so abundantly showers upon us.

     Again, Jesus responds with a sentence from the Scriptures:  “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

     In the final temptation, the devil took Jesus to the highest point of the temple and told Jesus to jump off.  And then the devil quoted a verse from the Psalms which said that God’s angels would take care of Jesus.  Jesus was already trusting the Father to take care of him, and he wasn’t about to force God’s hand like that.  So again quoting Scripture, Jesus said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

     Then, finally, the devil left Jesus, “…until an opportune time.”  That ‘opportune time’ comes late in the Gospel, and those same words are used when the devil enters Judas to tempt him to betray Jesus.  Then, the devil forces of evil finally get their way with Jesus, and they win, and Jesus is dead. 

     But the victory is short lived, and on Easter Sunday Jesus rose from the dead to proclaim the final defeat of the devil and all evil.  I Peter 5:8 tells us that the devil will still roam about on this earth for a while, “seeking whom he may devour.”  But his time is limited, and in the Kingdom to come, there will be no devil and no temptation and no evil.

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Save us from the time of trial.

–Lord’s prayer, contemporary version

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Related image

The Temptation of Christ, Titian (1490-1576)

In this brilliant interpretation of the temptation story, Titian paints the devil as an innocent child, appealing to Jesus to turn the stone he is holding into bread.  He is illustrating the fact that temptations can appear to be very innocent, as it says in II Corinthians 11:14 “Satan can even disguise himself as an angel of light.”

2252) Choosing Between Two Fathers

Afshin Ziafat 2018

Disowned for Jesus: What I Lost and Found in Christ, by Afshin Ziafat, January 6, 2019, posted at:  http://www.dgm.org

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     When I left Islam to follow Jesus, I didn’t know what it would cost me.  I hadn’t realized what it would take to deny myself, lay my life down, and take up my cross (Matthew 16:24).  But God taught me that if I do take up my cross and lay down my life, then I’ll find my life.  Over time, I have come to experience this truth.  My life of following Jesus has not been the life I envisioned for myself, but it has become the life I want: a life used for the glory of God as I make him known to others.  That is what I discovered when I was forced to choose between Jesus and my father.

From Iran to Texas

     I was born in Houston and grew up in a devout Muslim home.  My dad was very involved in the Iranian Muslim community.  Growing up, I was taught the five pillars of Islam and that if I did them to the best of my ability, then maybe I’d get to heaven.  When I was two years old, my family moved to Iran, where my parents are from.  But at age six, the Islamic Revolution of the late ’70s hit that country.  My father, who was a doctor, had the means to get us out of the country, so our family moved back to Houston.

     I spoke Farsi, not English, and so God, in his incredible plan, provided a Christian lady who tutored me, teaching me the English language every day by reading books to me.  In the second grade, she said to me, “Afshin, I want to give you the most important book that you’ll ever read in life.”  As she handed me a small New Testament, she told me that I would not completely understand it now, but asked me to promise to hold onto it until I was older.

     She gave me that Bible during the Iran hostage crisis, a time during which my family and other Iranians in America were ostracized and hated by many.  This lady, however, earned the right to be heard by the way that she loved me, showed me the love of Christ, and poured her life into me.  Because the Bible came from her, I believed it was important, and held onto that New Testament.  She had planted a seed in my life in the second grade that wouldn’t come to fruition until ten years later.

Leaving Islam

     As a senior in high school, I used the Lord’s name in vain while playing basketball.  A guy on the court walked up to me and said, “Hey, that Jesus whose name you just said — he’s my God.”  As a Muslim, I’d been taught that Jesus was a prophet, so I thought the guy was nuts.  A few days later, while watching TV, I stumbled onto a historical documentary on the life of Jesus, where I heard, “Some worship Jesus as God, and they’re called Christians.”  My mind went back to the words of the guy on the basketball court, and the Lord reminded me of the Bible that I’d received ten years earlier.  That afternoon, I found that small New Testament at the bottom of my closet and began to read in Matthew.

     Every day, I’d read under the covers in my bed with a flashlight so that my parents wouldn’t walk in and see what I was doing.  Meanwhile, at my high school, a Christian student sat across the table from me at lunch and told me about Jesus.  I’d debate against him each day, and then at night I’d go home to read more about his Jesus.

     One day, I got to the book of Romans, and the third chapter completely changed my life.  I read about a righteousness that comes apart from the law, apart from what I do for God.  I read that this righteousness comes as a gift to be received by faith.  I was struck by Romans 3:22, which says that this righteousness comes to all who believe.  I thought I was born a Muslim and would always be a Muslim, but that verse said that this righteousness was for anyone who believes, of any ethnicity.  A couple weeks later, a guy invited me to an evangelistic crusade where I heard the gospel proclaimed and came to faith in Christ.

Disowned

     I made my commitment to Christ public at that evangelistic crusade, but driving home from the event is when it hit me: “What am I going to tell my family?  What am I going to tell my father?”  My father had always been the most important person in my life, the guy I’d always looked up to.  I’m ashamed to say that I decided to hide my newfound faith from him and the rest of my family.  I would sneak out to go to church, intercept mail from the church I was attending, and hide my Bible.

     Finally, one day my dad found out.  He’d seen my Bible, and he’d also seen other evidences in my life.  He sat me down and said, “Son, what’s going on?  There’s something different about you.”  I said, “Dad, I’m a Christian.”  He said, “No, you’re not, young man. you’re a Muslim and you’ll always be a Muslim.”  I said, “Dad, the Bible says that if I trust in Christ alone for my salvation, then I’m a Christian — and I do.”  My dad said, “Afshin, if you’re going to be a Christian, then you can no longer be my son.”

     Everything in my flesh wanted to say, “Forget it.  I’ll be a Muslim.”  I didn’t want to lose the relationship with my dad.  So even I was surprised when I opened my mouth and said, “Dad, if I have to choose between you and Jesus, then I choose Jesus.  And if I have to choose between my earthly father and my heavenly Father, then I choose my heavenly Father.”  My father disowned me on the spot.

Not Peace, but a Sword

     I went upstairs to my room, and in the defining moment of my life, said, “God, how could you do this to me?  Jesus, if you’re real, how could you take my dad away from me?”  The Lord led me to where Jesus says,

     “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.  Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father.”  (Matthew 10:32-35).

     I read this just moments after my dad disowned me, and thought, Whoa!  This just happened for me!  Jesus goes on to say,

      “I have come to set . . . a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Matthew 10:35-39)

     That’s when I first understood what it means to be a follower of Christ.

Life Lost and Found

     I had to lose my father to follow Christ.  But I learned firsthand that when you lose your life, you find it.  God gave me a roommate in college who was also a former Muslim and was also disowned by his father.  After college, God led me to seminary.  He provided a businessman in Dallas who paid for my entire seminary degree and a church internship, which eventually led to a position as a college pastor.  God gave me a fifteen-year speaking ministry where I traveled all over the United States, preached the gospel, and saw Muslims come to faith in Christ.  I now pastor Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, where I get to weekly remind our people to count the cost of following Christ.  As a result, we have grown, planted three churches, and sent out several missionaries around the world.  Finally, I am thrilled to say that my relationship with my dad has been restored, and I continue to pray for his salvation daily.

What Has Jesus Cost You?

     I’m passionate for people to know that there’s a cost to following Jesus.  What is it costing you to follow him?

     There is a huge difference between being a follower of Christ and merely giving mental assent to the truths about Jesus.  The call of Christ isn’t simply “Believe the right things about me” but “Follow me.”  There is no greater joy and fulfillment in life than this.

2251) The Good Old Days

The song Grandpa, Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days went to Number One on the Country Music charts in 1986.  It was written by Jamie O’Hara and recorded by The Judds:

Grandpa, Tell me ’bout the good old days.

Sometimes it feels like
This world’s gone crazy.
Grandpa, take me back to yesterday,
Where the line between right and wrong
Didn’t seem so hazy.

Did lovers really fall in love to stay
Stand beside each other come what may
was a promise really something people kept,
Not just something they would say and then forget
Did families really bow their heads to pray
Did daddies really never go away
Whoa oh Grandpa,
Tell me ’bout the good old days.

Grandpa
Everything is changing fast.
We call it progress,
But I just don’t know.
And Grandpa, let’s wander back into the past,
And paint me a picture of long ago…

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     We should, of course, enjoy the blessings God gives us each and every day, without looking back and wishing for an earlier time and place that was better, or as we say, “the ‘good old days.”  But this does not mean we should not look back and see if there is anything of value we can learn from those old days; values and beliefs and behaviors that are worth preserving.   This song by The Judds does a good job of getting that message across, as do the following quotes and verses. 

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Two quotes by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) on the importance of religious tradition:

Tradition is democracy extended through time. Tradition means giving a vote to that most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  Tradition is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant tyranny of those who are walking about.”

“I freely confess to all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century.  I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age.  Like them, I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth.  And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it…  I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before.”  (He was writing about the unbelief of his youth, and then, as a young adult, his rediscovery of the truth of the Christian faith.)

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“Out of every hundred new ideas, ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace.  No one man, however brilliant or well-informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for those are the wisdom of generations after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.”

–Will and Ariel Durant, authors of the 11-volume classic The Story of Civilization

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“Reading on wise and virtuous subjects is, next to prayer, the best improvement of our hearts.  It enlightens us, calms us, collects our thoughts, and prompts us to better efforts.  We say that a man is known by the friends he keeps; but a man is known even better by his books.”
–William Law (1686-1761), Christian Perfection

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“If we cannot live at once and alone with Him, we may at least live with those who have lived with Him; and learn much from their purity, their truth, and their goodness.  To study the lives, to meditate on the sorrows, and to commune with the thoughts of the great and holy men and women of this rich world, is a sacred discipline…  We forfeit a chief source of dignity and sweetness in life, next to the direct communion with God, if we do not seek converse with the greater minds that have left their mark on the world.”   –J. Martineau (paraphrased)

(These emailmeditations are an attempt to put you in touch with some of those great minds and lives.)

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“There is divine beauty in learning.  To learn means to accept the fact that life did not begin at my birth.  Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps.  The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples.  I am the sum total of their experiences, and so are you.”    –Elie Wiesel

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Jeremiah 6:16  —  Thus saith the Lord, “Stand at the crossroads and look.  Ask for the old paths, and where the good way is.  Walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Job 8:8-10  —  (Bildad the Shuhite said),  “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.  Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”

Matthew 13:52  —  (Jesus said), “Every teacher of the Law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

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As we grow older it becomes our task to pass on this wisdom, and especially our faith, to the next generation.  That is the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 71:14-18:

As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long—
   though I know not how to relate them all.
I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.

2250) Looking Back (part two of two)

Image result for abandoned minnesota whole farmyard images

   (…continued)  LeRoy Iseminger was a Lutheran minister who grew up on a farm in South Dakota.  He gave much thought to his life and the land he was raised on and the passage of time; and he thought about all this in the context of his faith.  The South Dakota prairie he was from used to provide a home for one family to every 160 acres, but in just couple generations everything changed.  The land is still all farmed, but it is no longer lived on.  LeRoy’s home place, like most other home places in the Great Plains states, is now abandoned.  He wrote this article about a visit he made to the old home place (paraphrased):

     Today, I felt a feeling and a yearning within me that is too deep for words.  I stood at my birthplace, which is also my father’s birthplace.  I walked on the prairie land that was once my father’s dream.  I stood in what was left of the grove of ash trees he had planted, and which for decades stood in defiance of the prairie’s wind, drought, and blizzards.  But the trees are now all dead or dying. 

     Those trees had represented my father’s investment in and faith in the future.  Those trees were planted for future generations– they were planted for me.  But now I am old and I am not on the land, and neither are my children, and the broken trunks and branches reach toward an indifferent sky.  The trees are dead.  My father is also dead.  “All flesh is grass,” says the Bible, “we flourish like the flower of the field,” it says, “but then it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

     All that remains of that homestead and that dream is the hog house that my father built.  That’s still there, though not for long.  The old wooden windmill has already crumpled into the prairie sod.  That once proud tower that had pumped life into a prairie farmer, his family, and his livestock, is rotting in the dirt.  The house that was a home for my father’s wife and their two little sons– that is gone too.

     The concrete storm cellar remains, though without its door.  In addition to offering shelter during summer storms, it had also been the storeroom for canned goods, garden produce, eggs, and milk.  I went down the concrete steps into its cool darkness.  And I remembered as a child curling up against the concrete wall with my parents while a prairie storm raged above us.  I could hear in my memories my father whispering to my mother his hopes that the hail and the wind would not destroy the wheat crop.  Usually it didn’t, though there were times that it did.  But it’s all the same now.

    Willa Cather, in her novel “O Pioneers,” talks about the prairie ‘reclaiming itself.’  This reclaiming is happening at this site which was once my home.  The hog house is still there, but only with effort can I see the old foundations of the barn, only with effort can I see a small bump in the field where the driveway used to be.  I can also see a clump of weeds covering a pile of old fence posts– another bit of evidence that someone once lived here.  I step on a object and reach down and retrieve a part of a horse bridle from the long grass.  Most of the place is plowed under.  The rest soon will be.  The prairie is slowly but relentlessly reclaiming my birthplace.  Someday, the prairie will also reclaim me.  The church yard where I will lay is not far away.  It is all under the same stretch of sod.

     “Out of the dust you are taken and unto the dust you shall return,” the pastor said in that churchyard as my father was buried, and then later, as my mother and my brother were laid to rest.  Some pastor will say that for me also before long, and then the prairie will have reclaimed everything which once lived and moved on this place which was my home.

     How long my parents, or myself, or any of us will lie in the prairie’s depths, I do not know.  That, and what will happen then, is all in God’s hands, and we must trust him for that.  We are promised in the Bible that we will live again, and we are told that Jesus will return for us.

     I returned to my car.  The tears in my eyes reminded me that this land was my home, and it has a hold on me that will never let me go.  And that becomes a reminder for me of God, who for all eternity will never let me go, and He has prepared for me a home that no prairie will ever reclaim, but a home that will last forever.

     It is not difficult to get sentimental about the past.  And the older you get, the easier that becomes.  You begin to have so much more behind you than ahead of you, and just about anything can trigger the memories:  the sight of an old friend, the distinct sound of a certain old tractor, a drive by a farm where one worked or played as a child, or a look at an old photo album.  Nostalgic thoughts about the past are a pleasure and a sadness all at once, and those thoughts of the past come to us often.

     But the wisdom of the little piece that I just read is that the look back becomes also a look ahead.   The writer remembers the past, and the decline of the old home place is a vivid reminder that the past is gone.  But the writer does not get stuck in despair about the past.  His faith not only inspires him to look ahead, but his faith also gives him the foundation for the hope that there is a future and that death is not the last word.

     His first earthly home is gone, and soon his earthly body will be gone; all reclaimed by the prairie.  But God promises a life and a home beyond all time, beyond all death and decay.  The vivid reminders of LeRoy Iseminger’s past set his heart to thinking about that hope and promise that will never fail him.

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Psalm 103:15-178 — As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children; with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

Genesis 3:19  —  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

Ecclesiastes 3:20  —  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.

Ecclesiastes 12:1…7  —  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them” … and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

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Time, like an ever-rolling stream
Soon bears us all away;
We fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Still be our guard will troubles last
And our eternal home.

O God Our Help in Ages Past, (v. 5, 6), Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

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Rev. Leroy Iseminger

Rev. LeRoy Iseminger  (1931-2012)

2249) Looking Back (part one of two)

Image result for Threshing bee le sueur county images

Image result for Threshing bee le sueur county images

From a sermon I gave a few years ago at the outdoor worship service at the LeSueur County Pioneer Power Show.

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     Somebody once said, “What was difficult to endure, is sweet to remember.”  That isn’t always true, but oftentimes it is.  That could almost be the theme of these Pioneer Power days, surrounded as we are by all the tools, implements, machines, and other items of years gone by.  It is great fun to see this old stuff, and to see it all cranked up and running, snorting and smoking, doing what it was built to do.

     It is lots of fun to see that all now, but anyone who is old enough to remember working with these machines and tools, can also remember how hard they worked years ago, when what is now interesting antiques, was then the tools of daily life and work– hard work.  It is lots of fun now to get all these old things out and running, but years ago when new and more convenient machinery came out, most folks were quick to put the old aside and go with the new.

     But as the saying goes, “What was difficult to endure, is sweet to remember,” and the enjoyment of a weekend like this comes from the sweetness of recalling those old times; from the pleasure of remembering that hard work put in on those steam engines and threshing machines and tractors that surround us.

     The older you are, the more you have to remember, and a walk around here brings back so many memories.  My wife and I were out here last Wednesday evening with my parents.  We drove around the grounds and walked through one of the buildings, and it seemed everything they looked at reminded Mom and Dad of something.  They would both be talking at the same time, recalling how ‘dad had one of these,’ or how ‘I used to work with one of those;’ or a specific day when this or that broke down and what a hot day that was, and so on.  “What was difficult to endure, is sweet to remember.”

     We enjoy this remembering.  We like to talk about how things used to be.  We like to have things around to help us remember.  So it is good to do what you do here, working to preserve these things from the past so that they can be enjoyed and remembered.

     But if it is ‘sweet to remember,’ it is a sweetness touched with a bit of sadness, because as we remember the ‘old times,’ we can’t help but also remember the ‘old-timers;’  the grandparents and parents and perhaps even spouses and friends that used to run this machinery.  Our tools and machines are made of stronger stuff than we are, and with a little care those machines will last and last, and even keep on running.  But no matter how much we take care of ourselves, we don’t last.  And so even though a lot of the same old steamers and implements are here year after year, the same people aren’t.  Perhaps some of us here right now won’t be around for this next year.  In the words of an old hymn, “Time like an ever rolling stream soon bears us all away…”  Any one of us could be swept away by that stream any day.  You and I are the most fragile things out here.

     That is how it looks to us anyway.  But Jesus gives us a different view on the matter.  Jesus points us to a different reality and gives us a larger perspective.

     In Matthew 6:19-20 Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  And in I Peter 1:3-4 it says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade– kept in heaven for you.”

     These words point to the temporary nature not of ourselves, but of our earthly treasures.  Those treasures will not last forever, but can be destroyed by moth or rust, and will indeed spoil, perish or fade. 

     But, says Jesus and Peter, you and I can live on for all eternity.

    Jesus says we can store up treasures in heaven, which can never be destroyed or perish.  Peter says that in God’s great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

     To us, it looks to us like we perish, and it is our tools and tractors and machines go on.  But Jesus and Peter say “No, it is the other way around; all of this and everything else on earth, even the earth itself will one day perish, but you can live.”  We can go on.  We will yet receive the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls, says Peter.  Just have faith, just believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and it will be yours, forever.

     It is great to preserve the treasures of the past for our enjoyment and for the enjoyment of future generations.  It is of infinitely greater importance to preserve yourself for the future, indeed, for all eternity.  We will all one day leave all of this.  We can do only so much to hang on.  The time comes when we do let go of everything.  For that time, we must look to and trust in Jesus, the one who will never let go of us.

     We are able to hang on to some of the objects of the past, but one aspect of farm life that is disappearing is the old farm places themselves.  You can restore an old tractor or steamer to look exactly how it used to, but the inevitable march of progress has left few farm places looking like they did years back.  Operations expand and change, and the small, old buildings give way to larger, new ones.  Land use changes, and what once was rural, is now city, and the old buildings, and even hills and woods and fields, give way to houses and swing sets and streets.  And sometimes, as farms get larger, whole farm yards become fields again, and houses, barns, fences, and everything are all gone. 

     And all we can say is “That’s where the old place used to be.”  (continued…)

2248) Looking for All the Answers

I Assumed Science Had All the Answers. Then I Started Asking Inconvenient Questions.
“My journey from atheist dogma to Christian faith was paved with intellectual and spiritual surprises.”
Christianity Today magazine, March issue, pages  87, 88.    ( http://www.christianitytoday.com )

By Sy Garte, a biochemist who has taught at New York University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Rutgers University.  He is the author of The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith (Kregel Publications).

I Assumed Science Had All the Answers. Then I Started Asking Inconvenient Questions.

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     I had an unusual childhood for an American.  Members of my extended family were union organizers and left-wing radicals, and my parents had even been members of the American Communist Party.  My indoctrination in the dogmas of communism and atheism was deep and long lasting.  At the same time, my father gave me a love of science and reason, and he taught me the importance of asking questions.  These gifts, along with my training in scientific thought and research, eventually cracked open the prison cell that held my soul captive during those early years.

     Breaking free was a slow process, akin to chipping away at a dungeon door with a dull spoon.  Early on in life, my curiosity led me to ask questions.  I saw contradictions in some of what I had been taught. If humans were a blind product of evolutionary chance, with no special purpose or significance, then how could the stated goals of socialism—to advance human dignity and value—make sense?  And if religion, particularly Christianity, was really such a terrible historical evil, then why were so many Christian clergy members involved in the civil rights movement?

     As I studied science and began my research career in biochemistry and molecular biology, I formed a passionate attachment to a life of knowledge rooted in the scientific worldview.  I found comfort and joy in the beauty, complexity, and wisdom of the scientific description of reality.  But I also began wondering whether there might be something more to human existence than science and pure reason.

Surprising Discoveries

     At this point, the question of faith was off the table.  I knew that evolution was true and the Bible (which I hadn’t actually read) was false.  I knew that a supernatural god living in the sky was a fairy tale.  I knew that science held the keys to unlock all mysteries.  Or did it?

     I was disturbed to learn that, according to science, some things are actually unknowable.  It is impossible to know, for instance, the position and speed of an electron simultaneously.  This is a critical feature of quantum mechanics, even though it makes little rational sense.  If the uncertainty principle is true (and it must be, since so much modern technology is based on it), then how valid is the idea of a purely deterministic and predictable world?

     I also began to contemplate other questions.  Where did the universe come from?  How did life begin?  What does it mean to be a human being?  What is the source of our creativity—of art, poetry, music, and humor?  Perhaps, I thought, science cannot tell us everything.

     Now I was beginning to seriously wonder about the whole religion thing.  I met Christians who were smart and scientifically minded, and for the first time I attended a church service.  I was surprised at what I found.  Nobody glared at me with suspicion, and I heard no thundering condemnation of sinners.  The pastor spoke about the power of love.  The people next to me shook my hand and wished me peace.  It was all quite beautiful, and I decided to return.

     Then I read the Gospels and had another shock: I found them beautiful and inspiring.  So far as I could tell, they carried the ring of truth.  And the Book of Acts struck me as actual history, not at all like a fictional account concocted to enslave the masses—the kind of reading my Marxist upbringing would have conditioned me to affirm.

     The door to my prison cell was swinging open, and I stood there gazing out onto a new world, the world of faith.  Yet I was afraid to fully leave.  Suppose I was being fooled, misled into a trap?  I remained stuck in that place of indecision for several years.  And then the Holy Spirit pulled me over the threshold.

     It happened one day while I was traveling alone on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the rural middle part of the state, with a long way to go.  Turning the radio on, I heard the unmistakable voice of an evangelical Christian preacher, the kind I used to mock and avoid.  But this preacher was really good.  I have no idea what he was saying, but his voice and inflection were mesmerizing and I listened for a few minutes before turning the radio off.  Driving in silence for a while, I began wondering how I would sound if I ever tried preaching—after all, I always liked to talk.  I laughed a bit, thinking about what I could possibly say.  The first thing that came to my mind was something about science—how, if there were a God, he might have used science to create the world.

     And then something happened.  I felt a chill up and down my spine and could hear myself speaking in my mind—preaching, in fact.  I could see an audience in front of me, people in an outdoor stadium, dressed in summer clothing.  I pulled the car over to the right lane and slowed down.  It was not a vision exactly, but it was intense.  I knew I wasn’t making the words up—I was listening just as much as the audience.

     I talked about knowing that Jesus loves me.  With a voice full of passionate emotion, I assured the crowd that whatever their sins might be, they were no worse than my own, and that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross we could all be saved.  I explained that God’s love is more powerful than any other kind and that anyone can have it without deserving it.

     At some point during this experience, I had pulled over onto the shoulder of the road, where I sat behind the wheel crying for some time.  I had never considered the things “I” had been saying.  Some of the concepts were unfamiliar.  The only explanation I could fathom was that the Holy Spirit had entered into my life in dramatic fashion.  “Thank you, Lord,” I said out loud in between sobs.  “I believe, and I am saved.  Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ.”

Joy and Release

     When I recovered my composure, I was aware of a great feeling of joy and release.  I had no more doubts, no trace of hesitation—I had crossed over, stepping over the ruins of my prison cell into my new life of faith.  From that day onward, my life has been devoted to the joyful service of our Lord.

     Today, I am an active member of my church and have served as lay leader for several years.  I am a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation, the largest organization of Christians in the sciences, and the vice president of its metropolitan Washington, DC, chapter.  I also serve as editor in chief of the ASA’s online magazine God and Nature.  I assist my wife, who is co-director of a local charity that distributes food to the needy.  I am an active online evangelist.

     Along the way, I made many discoveries.  I learned about the power of the Bible as a guide from God to the central questions of our existence.  I learned that the true purpose of science is to describe how things are, not to engage in misplaced speculation about why the world is the way it is.  I learned that modern atheist taunts about the purposelessness and meaninglessness of the universe and our own existence are not only false but destructive.  Most importantly, I learned that nothing I have learned came through my own merit, but only from the grace of our Lord, whose love and mercy are beyond understanding.

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For more by and about Sy Garte, see his website at:

https://thebookofworks.com/

And also:

https://sciencemeetsfaith.wordpress.com/tag/sy-garte/

Sy Garte: Why I Believe in the Resurrection

 

https://biologos.org/people/sy-garte?gclid=Cj0KCQiA4sjyBRC5ARIsAEHsELGD41H1USOJbwHR8uPGQVv8HDQfV6KrRV1DeXywmzjQliwMkOJj9EAaArYyEALw_wcB

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Psalm 19:-2   —  The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I Corinthians 1:18-20…25  — For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”  Where is the wise person?  Where is the teacher of the law?  Where is the philosopher of this age?  Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? … For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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A SCIENTIST’S PRAYER:

I thank you, my Creator and Lord, that you have given me these joys in your creation, this ecstasy over the deeds of your hands.  I have made known the glory of your deeds to people as far as my finite spirit was able to understand your infinity.  If I have said anything unworthy of you, or have aspired after my own glory, graciously forgive me.  

–Johannes Kepler  (1571-1630), German mathematician and astronomer; a key figure in the 17th century scientific revolution; best known for his laws of planetary motion.

2247) A Christian Good-bye

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“On the Death of Colin Stuart”

A Funeral Meditation

By Martin Bell, in The Way of the Wolf: The Gospel in New Images, 1968, Ballantine Books, pages 75-77.

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John 16:22  —  Jesus said to his disciples, “Ye now, therefore, have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.”

He said: “Go now—have sorrow.”

1. Human beings do not belong to one another.  We are God’s children.  We belong to Him.  It is by sheer grace that we are together for a time—for a little while.  We receive God’s gift of another person in our lives with thanksgiving.  But we must realize that this person is a gift—we cannot hang on, or refuse to let go of one of God’s children when He calls.

2. Colin Stuart was a gift.  One of God’s own tiny children.  And, for a time, God gave Colin to the world.  In order that two human beings might have a child.  And, later, in order that a woman might have a husband.  And some children might have a father.  And some other children might have a grandfather.  For those children Colin defined what it means to have a father, or a grandfather.  And a woman came to know what it means to have a husband.  And because of Colin, the world understood more fully the greatness of the love of God.  God loved the world so much that He gave it Colin.  And that was nice of God.

3. But now Colin Stuart is dead.  And the world won’t see him again.  God took him back.  That’s painful.  And there is no way under heaven to minimize that pain.  Jesus said, “Go now, therefore, and have sorrow.”  We do not sorrow because God is cruel or unjust.  The world did nothing to deserve Colin.  God gave him to us freely.  Not because we deserved it, but because He loved us.  We are not sorrowing because God is unjust.  We are sorrowing because Colin is gone.  And that’s right. That’s just right. Jesus said, “Go and have sorrow.”  A part of us is dead.  That part of us that we called our father, or our grandfather, or our friend.  That part of us we called Colin is gone.  And we know the pain, and the emptiness, and the bitterness and the guilt, and the heartbreak all too well.  We will never be the same.  And that’s right, too.  We can’t be “the same” ever again.

4. We are here to say good-bye to one of God’s tiny children.  Jesus said, “Ye now, therefore, have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and you joy no man taketh from you.”  He said, “When you pray, say ‘Father.’”  God loves Colin.  And he belongs to Him.  He always has.  For a time He gave him to the world.  And now He has called him.  And now we know emptiness.  That’s the way it is with human beings.  We are here today, reluctantly, to offer Colin back to God.  In so doing we are offering ourselves.  We are here boldly—to dare to say “Our Father” and to pray “Thy will be done.”  We are here to trust God, and to love Him, and to realize how much He loves us.  We are here to say good-bye to Colin, one of God’s tiny children.  And today we must let go of his hand.  But in so doing we give it over to that of his heavenly Father.  We cannot hang on.  We must let go.  But God has hold of his hand.  And He will never let go.  Amen.

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John 16:19-22  —  Jesus… said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’  Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 

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PRAYER FOR DEPARTED LOVED ONES:

We give back to you, O God, those whom you gave to us.  You did not lose them when you gave them to us, and we do not lose them by their return to you.  Your dear Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die.  So death is only an horizon, and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.  Open our eyes to see more clearly, and draw us closer to you, and then we may be nearer to our loved ones who are with you.  You have told us that you are preparing a place for us.  Prepare us also for that happy place, that where you are, we also may be; O dear Lord of life and death.  Amen.

–William Penn  (1644-1718)

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2246) Unfinished Business (part two of two)

     (…continued)  The Pals family dying in Nebraska, and Jim dead on that hay wagon, are extreme examples, to be sure, and they all certainly missed out on so much in this life.  But don’t we all, always, come up short, no matter how long we live?  Whether it has to do with family or work or health or other relationships or plans and dreams, don’t we all have aspects of our lives about which we say, I wish that would have been different?   “I should have done that, but… or I could have done that, but… or I would have done that, but…”  Maybe it was someone else’s fault and you have something to forgive; or maybe it was your own fault and you have some regrets and you have ask for God’s forgiveness and forgive yourself; or, maybe you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and maybe, like the Pals family and Jim, you just ran out of time.  This life is by nature incomplete and unsatisfying, and we all remain unfulfilled and wishing for more in so many ways.

     With this in mind, look again at that Faith Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11.  Did all those great heroes of the Bible get it all figured out and done according to plan?  Not at all.  Their lives were all messed up by the same unsatisfying lack of fulfillment and certainty.  They also died in the midst of life with unfinished business.

     Abraham, promised descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and still childless at the age of 100.  Moses led the people for 40 miserable years on the way to the Promised Land, and then died just short of it, getting only a glimpse of it from the top of Mt. Nebo.  Isaac was deceived right at the end by one of his own sons.  Jacob spent most of his life mourning the death of one of his boys, who all the while was alive and well in Egypt.  David was a great warrior and king, but a terrible father and ended up with the ultimate dysfunctional family.  Samson had all Israel’s enemies on the run, but then made a fool of himself, was humiliated, and spent the rest of his life as a slave of those enemies.  All of them fell short in one way or another.

      Look at what the Bible says about this in these words from that same chapter, beginning in verse 13:  “All these people were still living by faith when they died; they only saw the promises and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on this earth.  They were looking for a country of their own, longing for a better country, a heavenly one.”  And remember that first verse?—“Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and the assurance of things we do not yet see.”  And then chapter 11 ends with these words, “These people were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what was promised, since God had planned something better, so that together with us we would all be made perfect.”

     So again, “What kind of world is this where a little boy finds his mother and then his father dead; and where a family dedicates themselves to following God to the other side of the world, and then they all get killed before they even get on the airplane?”  What kind of world is this?  Well, says the Bible, believing in Jesus means that here in this world we are living only the first little part of our long life with God.  God has created for us another country, a heavenly one, and there we will find all the satisfaction and completion and fulfillment that is always lacking here.  God has all eternity to work out his purposes in us and for us, along with Abraham, Moses, Jeremiah, Samson, and all the rest.  Therefore, says the closing words of Hebrews 12, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and worship God.”

     We ask “Why Lord,” and the Lord doesn’t give an answer, but says, “Look to Jesus.  Keep the faith, there is a better day coming.”

     That was the gist of the message posted after their deaths by the Pals’ family church, Bethlehem Baptist in downtown Minneapolis:

As a church, we greatly grieve the losses of Jamison & Kathryne Pals, and their precious children, Ezra, Violet, and Calvin. We deeply love them, and will sorely miss them. We weep and mourn and ache together as their church family.  Some people look at these deaths and see only a tragedy—the tragic end of all their hopes and dreams. But as Christians, we look death in the face and we also see ultimate victory.  We see not only the tragedy, but also the victory, because Jesus defeated sin and death for all of his people…  And so, while we grieve, we embrace together our blessed faith in the hope and promise that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. And so, we celebrate the fact that the Pals family is not dead, but more alive than ever because of the grace of God that is ours in Jesus Christ.

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Psalm 112:6-7  —  Surely the righteous will not be shaken; they will be remembered forever.  They will have no fear of bad news; for their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Hebrews 11:39-40  —  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promise, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:13-16  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.   People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

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Teach me to number my days aright, O Lord, and so apply my heart unto wisdom.  Amen.

–Psalm 90:12

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At the end of C. S. Lewis’s seven book Narnia Chronicles all of the major characters are killed in a train accident in England.  They then find themselves in a new and wonderful world, and they are thrilled to be with Aslan (the Christ figure in the books).  Here are the closing words of the last book:

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2245) Unfinished Business (part one of two)

Jamison and Kathryne Pals Family

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            The eleventh chapter of Hebrews has been called the Faith Hall of Fame.  The great deeds of many Biblical heroes are listed, each one beginning with the phrase, “By faith.” 

            For example, beginning in verse eight it says:  “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country.”  There is that phrase two times in two verses.  There are 40 verses in the chapter, and the phrase ‘by faith’ appears 21 times.  “By faith, Noah built an ark… By faith, Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau…  By faith, Moses left Egypt… By faith, the people passed through the Red Sea…  By faith, the walls of Jericho fell… And so on, through Gideon, Samson, David, Samuel, and more.”

            And those all are from only the Old Testament.  We could continue the list with those many faithful people in the New Testament, beginning with ‘By faith’ Mary and Joseph believed in the promise of a miraculous conception, by faith John the Baptist announced the coming Messiah, and by faith Andrew, Peter, John, James, Paul, Barnabas, along with all the rest, went out from Jerusalem to proclaim Christ to the world. 

            The list could continue down through the last two thousand years of church history.  By faith, the early martyrs went out to face the lions still singing praises to God, by faith Augustine taught people who saw the ruin of the so-called eternal city of Rome about the true hope of the eternal heavenly city, by faith Martin Luther said “Here I stand; God help me,” and changed the world, by faith John Paton converted the cannibals of New Hebrides, by faith Mary Slessor went all alone to preach the Gospel into the darkest jungles of Africa…

            How about one more?  By faith, Jamison and Kathryne Pals felt the call of God to be missionaries to Japan.  By faith, Jamison quit his job in Minneapolis and the couple began the necessary training to be missionaries at the Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya, Japan.  By faith, they made a long term commitment, sold all their belongings, and headed west with their three children, all under the age of three.  On July 31, 2016 they were on their way to a final training session in Colorado when their vehicle was rear-ended by a truck in Nebraska.  The entire family of five died in a horrific fiery crash.  By faith they had left everything to follow what they believed was a call to serve God– and they did not even get the chance to begin. 

            What can we, by faith, say about that?

            Thinking about the Pals family I was reminded of a funeral I did several years ago.  It was for a young man only 34 years old.  Jim died about this time of year, of a heart attack, while unloading a load of hay.  Jim was on the wagon, putting the bales onto the hay elevator to go up into the barn.  His 12-year old son Luke was in the hay barn, stacking the bales, one by one as they dropped down.  Then the bales stopped coming.  The boy was at first relieved to have a little break, but soon began to wonder what was taking so long.  He shouted for his father, but heard nothing.  Then Luke came down out of the hayloft and went over to the wagon, where he saw his dead father.

            Luke was the oldest of six children, the combined total of the children of his father and step-mother, this being the second marriage for both of them.  I had done their wedding.  Luke’s mother died seven years before this.  In those earlier years, his dad would always be the first one up and would go out and milk the cows.  Then the mother would get up and get the kids ready.  One day, the kids got up before their mother, and started to play.  Then they got hungry, and Luke went in to wake his mother.  But she did not wake up– and never would.  She had died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. 

            What kind of world is this where by the age of twelve a boy can lose of his parents, and worse yet, be the one to find both of them dead?

            I went out to the farm as soon as I heard the news of Jim’s death.  I will never forget that the first thing I noticed on the farmyard was the half-unloaded hay wagon.  It struck me as an image of what this life is like.  So often it is that death comes right in the middle of things—in the middle of work to be done, things to accomplish, plans to make, obligations not yet completed.  For Jim, it was the unloading of that wagon of hay, the raising of six children, and a whole lot of other things that a man is in the middle of at the age of 34.  There was so much “unfinished business.” 

            I used the phrase ‘unfinished business’ as the theme for the funeral sermon.  Many years later, when I was back to that congregation for its anniversary, John’s widow told me she still remembered what I said.  She was remarried and the kids were all grown, but the image of that half-full hay wagon was still with her.  “That’s how life is,” she said. “So much remains unfinished and incomplete.”

            I always begin graveside committal with these words:  “In the midst of life, we are in death.  Of whom may we seek comfort, but of thee, Oh Lord?”  It is indeed in the midst of life that death comes, and one by one we have to leave here, and everyone else has to just keep going.  Despite all the loose ends that remain, life goes on.

            As I said, that terrible crash that killed the Pals family last week reminded me of Jim’s sudden death.  Both families had so much ahead of them, so many depending on them, and so much to do.  And we all live our lives knowing such things could happen this week or this day to any one of us.  Some of you have already had your life turned upside-down by such tragedies. 

            Again, what can we say “by faith” about this?  Does God plan all this out ahead of time, or does God simply allow such things to happen?  I don’t know.  I don’t have that all figured out yet.  God is all-powerful, so he has something to do with it.  He certainly could have done something, but did not– not about Jim’s sudden death or that accident that killed the Pals family.  Why not?  Well, there are reasons, explanations, speculations; all sorts of things one could say.  And such theology can give us some helpful handles as we try to make some sense of it all.  But there are no completely satisfying answers to any of this.

            So what should we do?  When your turn at tragedy comes, should you get mad at God and blame God?  Well, you could.  You would be in good company. There is a much of that blaming God and complaining to God in the Bible.  God even honors it sometimes, because even when such anger or blame is directed at God, you are still bringing it to God, still talking to God, and have not yet turned away—just like Job, Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and the Psalmist– even Jesus himself who from the cross said, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

            But then, just like Jesus and all the others, don’t forget to continue bringing it all to God—whatever you have to say.  Whatever you do, don’t let go of God, and don’t let go of faith; because then you will be all alone and without hope.  You will still have to endure the loss, and you will still be heart-broken; but without God, you will then also be without any hope at all.  (continued…)

2244) Healing Words (part two of two)

Image result for we must endure the contempt of others without reciprocating images ————————-

“America’s Crisis of Contempt”
Arthur C. Brooks keynote address at the February 6, 2020 National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D. C.
Reprinted from the Washington Post

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     (…continued)  Let’s take a step back now and diagnose the problem a little bit.

     Some people blame our politicians, but that’s too easy.  It’s us, not them —I am guilty.  And frankly, I know many politicians, many of them here today, who want a solution to this problem every bit as much as I do. 

     What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like? 

     The problem is what psychologists call contempt.  In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”  In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.

     The world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation is Dr. John Gottman, psychologist at the University of Washington.  Over the course of his work, Dr. Gottman has studied thousands of married couples.  After watching a couple interact for just one hour, he can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce within three years. 

     How can he tell?  It’s not from the anger that the couples express.  As I already told you, anger doesn’t predict separation or divorce.  The biggest warning signs, he explains, are indicators of contempt.  These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and — worst of all —eye-rolling.  These little acts effectively say, “You are worthless” to the one person a spouse should love more than any other.  Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court?  Watch them discuss a contentious topic and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes.

     Why do they do that?  The answer is that it’s a habit, and that habit is tearing their marriage apart.  And like a couple on the rocks, in politics today, we have a contempt habit.  Don’t believe it?  Turn on prime-time cable TV and watch how they talk.  Look at Twitter — if you dare.  Listen to yourself talking about a politician you don’t like. We are guilty of contempt.  It’s a habit, and it’s tearing our society apart.

     How do we break the habit of contempt?  Even more, how do we turn the contempt people show us into an opportunity to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love our enemies? 

     To achieve these things, I’m going to suggest three homework assignments. 

     First:  Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies.  Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart.  In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!

     Second:  Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt.  Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy.  It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas.  But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.

     Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love.  I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for somethings bad.  But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu.  It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?

   I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary.  I’ve had missionaries on both sides of my family, and they are amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t go out looking for people who already agree with them, because that’s not where they are needed— they go to the dark places to bring light.  It’shard work, and there’s lots of rejection involved.  (Here are words that have never been uttered:  “Oh good, there are missionaries on the porch.”)  But it’s the most joyful type of work, isn’t it?

     I’m calling each one of you to be missionaries for love in the face of contempt.  If you don’t see enough of it, you’re in an echo chamber and need a wider circle of friends — people who disagree with you.  Hey, if you want a full blast of contempt within 20 seconds, go on social media!  But run toward that darkness, and bring your light.

     My sisters and brothers, when you leave the National Prayer Breakfast today and go back to your lives and jobs, you will be back in a world where there is a lot of contempt.  That is your opportunity.  So I want you to imagine that there is a sign over the exit as you leave this room.  It’s a sign I’ve seen over the doors of churches — not the doors to enter, but rather the doors to leave the church.  Here’s what it says:

   You are now entering mission territory.

     If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.

     God bless you, and God bless America.

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Matthew 5:43-47  —  (Jesus said),  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?”

Proverbs 12:18  —  The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Proverbs 15:1-2  —  A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

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PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.