2345) A Prayer for Minneapolis

Do the Riots in Minneapolis Forebode Greater Civil Unrest for the US?

By John Piper, posted May 29, 2020 at:  www.desiringgod.org .  For 44 years John Piper has made his home in Minneapolis, a city now on fire with riots and unrest.  He offers this prayer to God in the midst of the turmoil.  Piper is the founder of Desiring God Ministries and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary.  For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis.  He is the author of more than 50 books.

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Almighty and merciful Father,

Hallowed be your name in Minneapolis.  Revered, admired, honored — above every name, in church, in politics, in sports, in music, in theater, in business, in media, in heaven or in hell.  May your name, your absolute reality, be the greatest treasure of our lives.  And may your eternal, divine Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord — crucified for sin, risen from the dead, reigning forever — be known and loved as the greatest person in this city.

It was no compliment to the city of Nineveh, but it was a great mercy, when you said to your sulking prophet Jonah, “Should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:11).

Oh, how kind you are to pity our folly rather than pander to our pride.  Jonah could not fathom your mercy.  His desire was the fire of judgment.  And you stunned him, and angered him, with the shock of forgiveness.

And have we not heard your Son, crying out to the city that would kill him, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)?

Oh, how large is your heart toward cities in their sin and misery.

Yes, we have heard you speak mercy to great cities.  Did you not say, to Jerusalem, “This city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth” (Jeremiah 33:9)?  They were not worthy — not any more than Nineveh, or Minneapolis.  But you are a merciful God, “slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

And what are we?  Debtors.  Whose only hope is grace.  For we could never pay back the honor we have stolen from your name.  How precious, then, is the lightning bolt of truth that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners!” (1 Timothy 1:15).

And for what have you saved us, Father?  To what end did you forgive, and cleanse, and free, and empower your people?  You have told us, “In the coming ages I will show the immeasurable riches of my grace in kindness toward you in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).  Yes . That is best.  You are your best gift to us.

But that’s a long way off, Lord.  What about now?  For now, we live in Minneapolis, not heaven.  This is our home away from Home.  We love our city.  We love her winters — yes, we do — and cherish her spring.  We love her great river and her parks.  Her stadiums and her teams.  We love her lakes and crystal air.  We love her beautiful cityscape.  We love her tree-lined neighborhoods, her industry, her arts, and her restaurants.

And we love her people.  Her old immigrant Swedes and new immigrant Somalis.  Her African Americans, her Asians, her Latinos.  We love those with so many genetic roots they don’t know what box to check.  We love her diversity — every human precious because you made each one like yourself and for your glory.

This is our home away from Home.  We are sojourners and exiles in this city (1 Peter 2:11).  So we ask again: For what have you saved us?  Here and now?

Open our hearts to hear your answer, Lord: “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).

Yes, Lord.  Yes.  This is our heart for Minneapolis.  We seek her welfare.  We pray on her behalf.

For those who knew George Floyd best and loved him most, bring them your consolation, and direct their hearts to the God of all comfort.

For Derek Chauvin, who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for seven minutes, until he died, we ask for the mercy of repentance and the judgment of justice.  For officers Thomas Lane and Tou Thao and Alexander Kueng, who stood by, we pray that grief and fear will bear the fruit of righteous remorse; and may the seriousness of the killing and the cowardice of the complicity meet with proper penalties.

For the upright police who have watched all ten minutes of the unbearable video of Floyd’s dying, who consider it “horrific” and “inhuman,” who find it unbelievable that Chauvin did not say a single word for seven minutes as the man under his knee pled for his life, and who lament with dashed hopes that they must start again from “square one” to rebuild what meager trust they hoped to have won — for these worthy servants of our city, we pray that they would know the patient endurance of Jesus Christ, who suffered for deeds he did not do.

For police chief Medaria Arradondo, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, our Mayor Jacob Frey, and our Governor Tim Walz, we ask for the kind of wisdom that only God can give.  May our leaders love the truth, seek the truth, stand unflinching for the truth, and act on the truth.  Let nothing, O Lord, be swept under the rug.  Forbid that any power or privilege would be allowed to twist or distort or conceal the truth, even if the truth brings the privileged, the rich, the powerful, or the poor, from the darkness of wrong into the light of right.

For the haters and the bitter and the hostile and the slanderers — of every race — we pray that they will see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  We pray that the light will banish darkness from their souls — the darkness of arrogance and racism and selfishness.  We pray for broken hearts, because “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

We pray that our city will see miracles of reconciliation and lasting harmony, rooted in truth and in the paths of righteousness.  We pray for peace — the fullest enjoyment of shalom, flowing down from the God of peace, and bought at an infinite price for the brokenhearted followers of the Prince of Peace.

And as the scourge of COVID-19 has now killed 100,000 people in our nation, and still kills 20 people a day in our state — most of them in our city — and as the virus wreaks havoc with our economy, and riots send lifetimes of labor up in smoke, and the fabric of our common life is torn, we pray that the compounding of sorrows will not compound our sins, but send us desperate and running to the risen Savior, our only hope, Jesus Christ.

O Jesus, for this you died!  That you might reconcile hopeless, hostile people to God and to each other.  You have done it for millions by grace through faith.  Do it, Lord Jesus, in Minneapolis, we pray.  Amen.

2344) Ferocious, But Good

From an old sermon.

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    A sermon is supposed to explain and proclaim God’s whole Word, whether we like it or not.  If you like everything the preacher says all the time, the preacher is probably not doing his or her job– and pastors need to be careful about that.  They must resist the temptation to be only pleasant in their preaching and overlook God’s hard words.  I want to be a nice guy and well-liked by my church members, but that is a dangerous temptation for a preacher.  There are too many things in God’s word that are true and must be said, but may not appeal to anyone.  Someone once summarized the simplistic message of much modern preaching with these words: “God is nice; we should all try to be nice; isn’t that nice?”  Well, I do have to admit, that’s nice; but God’s word has more to say than pleasing thoughts.  A preacher has to be careful of being only cheerful and affirming and uplifting, and parishioners have to be careful of expecting that in a preacher.  Of course, a sermon should give comfort and hope and forgiveness, and proclaim grace and peace.  That is all in God’s Word.  But a sermon should also at times irritate and aggravate and challenge, it should at times produce guilt and discomfort, and even the fear of the Lord.  That is, unless you think that you are already, completely and fully, the kind of person God wants you to be.  I know I am not, and I am sure you aren’t either, so expect that sometimes God’s word will provoke you.  Why should anyone assume that God would never have an unpleasant word to say to sinners like us?  If you read the Bible, you will encounter God not only as a loving Father, but also as a fierce and demanding Law-giver and judge.

    C. S. Lewis’s children’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is a wonderful story, and filled with Christian symbolism.  Four normal children from England enter into a magic land called Narnia where animals talk, and where witches and fairies and all sorts of other magical creatures come and go.  The Christ-figure in Narnia is the great lion Aslan, who is all-powerful, but must save the people from the evil one by dying for them (spoiler alert:  he rises from the dead).  Sound familiar?  When the children first hear the lion roar they are very afraid, because it made such a loud and frightening sound.  They ask one of the animals what that was.  Oh, they are told, that was The Great Aslan, a huge lion, the ruler of all of Narnia.  “A Lion?” Lucy, the littlest child asks fearfully; and then wonders, “Is it a tame lion?”  Mr. Tumnus, a talking fawn, looked at her incredulously and said, “Aslan?  Tame?  Of course he’s not tame.  He is ferocious.  But he is good.”  There are seven books in the Narnia Chronicles, and as the story continues the children get to know Aslan very well, and they learn to love him deeply.  But they also learn Aslan was not one to be fooled with, and they are not eager to face him when they do wrong.  This is a wonderfully Biblical picture of God.  For me as a preacher, and for you as listeners, we have to be careful about creating a false image of a tame and manageable God.  God is a ferocious God, but he is good.  The catechism says we should fear and love God, and that is a good Biblical balance to maintain.

  I am reminded of Dr. John Stensvaag, a professor I had in seminary.  He also was ferocious, but he was good.  He was nearing retirement when I was a student.  He was a crabby old Norwegian who had, by that time, put up with enough nonsense, pranks, laziness, and excuses by students; and he wasn’t in the mood to put up with anything, anymore.  I don’t think he liked dumb kids; and even though we were all graduate students in our middle 20’s, we were all dumb kids to him.  And we were afraid of him.  We did not go to class late (the door would be locked), we did not turn papers in late (there would be no mercy), and we did not talk, chew gum, or bring coffee into class.  Dr. Stensvaag was definitely from the old school, and we feared his wrath.  But he did know and love God’s Word, and he wanted us future pastors also to know and love that Word.  He could make the Old Testament come alive for us, and taught us much about how to use it in our ministry.  He was a great teacher, and I registered for every class I could get from him.  He was ferocious, indeed, but he was good.

     If we love and trust God, we can believe that even his harsh and ferocious words are intended only for our good.  Therefore, hear the Word of the Lord.

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“There is no reason why we should take for granted that we are safe when God declares himself angry with us for our many sins.  “

–John Calvin in his commentary on Hosea

Rather, we should pray like the Psalmist (51:1-3): Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

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Jeremiah 22:29  —  O land, land, land, hear the word of the Lord!

Jeremiah 6:10  —  To whom can I speak and give warning?  Who will listen to me?  Their ears are closed so they cannot hear.  The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.

Hebrews 12:12-13  —  For the word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

II Timothy 4:1-4  —  In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

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PRAYER BASED ON THE THIRD COMMANDMENT AND MARTIN LUTHER’S CATECHISM EXPLANATION:

O God, you command us to keep the Lord’s Day holy.  May we so fear and love you, that we do not neglect your Word and the preaching of it, but regard it as holy and gladly hear and learn it; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

2343) Answers to Prayers in COVID-19

Home | First RPC Durham

First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham, North Carolina

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From Can the Pandemic Be an Answered Prayer? by Rosaria Butterfield at:  http://www.desiringgod.org

Rosaria Butterfield is former tenured professor of English at Syracuse University.  She is married to Rev. Kent Butterfield, pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham, North Carolina. Her story is told in Emailmeditation #2314 at: 

https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2020/04/30/2314-becoming-what-she-despised/

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     My husband, Kent, was installed as pastor of the First Reformed Church of Durham (North Carolina) in April of 2012.  From the moment that Kent received the call, we started praying for opportunities to love our church neighbors.  Located five blocks from a progressive, well-heeled research university and down the block from the LGBTQ community center, we met roadblocks every step of the way.  We tried barbecues and block parties.  Nobody came.

     After eight years in this neighborhood, only two neighborhood contacts remain: National Neighbor Night Out (first Tuesday in August), where Kent and other men from our church serve as grill masters, and Reformation Day (October 31), when our church distributes treats and tracts and opens the church for respite to hundreds of weary goblins, princesses, and their parents.  Even at these all-neighbor events, however, we were feeling the cool breeze.

     In August, neighbors would ask if our church was LGBTQ affirming, and if not, why we were here.  In October, parents would clutch the hands of their costumed-children and cross the street, directing them not to take anything from our hand or even receive our smiles.  Finally, a small case of vandalism last year discouraged many of us when someone took permanent marker to a yard sign.  The original sign — “Please Curb your Dog” — was defaced to “Please Curb your God.”

     With sadness, as the culture lurched aggressively toward identity politics, we realized that instead of representing good news for all, our little church had become a symbol of suspicious intent.  We continued to pray that the Lord would give our church a reason to be in this neighborhood, and that our neighbors would receive our desire to do them good.

     Then God answered our prayers by allowing COVID-19, and with it, shelter-in laws and severe restrictions against assembling in groups for any reason.

     How could COVID-19 be an answer to our prayer for opportunities to love our neighbors?

     I know that this might ring wrong in our ears.  After all, God is not the author or cause of sin.  How could a global pandemic, a novel-virus killing machine plaguing six out of seven continents, be considered an answer to prayer?  And why would anyone thank God for months of shelter-in orders, an aggressive government intervention whose deleterious economic and social harm will be felt for generations?

     Let me explain.  COVID-19 has profoundly (and some say permanently) changed the food chain across the globe.  Here in North Carolina, this hit us like a brick in March.  Big chain stores were rationing basic items, and people were in a panic.  Farmers had food, but much of it was wasted because the restaurant business was shut down and the food was packaged and distributed only to restaurants.

     Severe shelter-in policies discouraged people from leaving their homes at all, and all residents were encouraged to order their groceries from a delivery service.  Most services had waiting lists and confusing rules.  COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-packing plants made people seek a cleaner food source.  This was a perfect storm.  Food is a basic need, and people were panicked.

     So, my 14-year-old daughter and I started working to deliver food for a farm-to-table CSA (community supported agriculture) program that we have been using for eight years.  Families order curated boxes and then add meat and dairy products to those boxes as suits their needs for the week.  To serve as delivery drivers, we received quick and intensive training.  Delivering food in a pandemic is no small thing.

     Providentially, the route that the company assigned to us is the neighborhood in which our church resides.  On our first day on the job, Kent and our teenage son helped as well.  It was all hands on deck for the Butterfields.  That first day, it took us twelve hours to complete our deliveries.

     Our neighbors received us with joy and thanks.  And many of them knew us as the pastor and pastor’s wife from the church down the block.  People were (and are) in a state of panic about COVID-19.  And the people willing to bring them their food mean something to them.  Our role as food deliverers has allowed us to be seen in a new light.

     After a grueling first day, we realized that our church building could also serve the food distribution.  Our church building, like others, had been unused and unopened for weeks by state demands.  We offered the company the use of our church as a truck stop, and the use of our kitchen, bathrooms, and building as storage and respite for their drivers.  My daughter and I learned how to clean and disinfect the building to the new COVID-19 code, and we put up signage (“This Facility Practices Social Distancing”), provided extra face masks, and opened the doors for business.

     Now, on Tuesdays, our church is open, alive, and serving.  Kent and our son stay at the church to help drivers with any needs, while my daughter and I deliver food to 35 (and counting) households.  Neighbors who had once been suspicious are thanking us for our service.  Many are asking for prayer.

     After our deliveries are done, we often meet with concerned neighbors and try to connect people in need of food with the programs that serve food.  Everyone we meet is in a crisis.  And God so loves us that he appointed us to serve and share and proclaim the gospel in the thick of the crisis.

      We come home with lists of people to pray for and serve in additional ways.  In a global pandemic, where people are literally afraid to breathe, the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed gains new ground.  One practical way that COVID-19 answered our prayers was that its devastation has provided a clear reason for our conservative and biblical church to be located in this progressive community.  God never gets the address wrong.  So I am committed to thanking God for his purposes in COVID-19.

     God’s word shows us how this kind of prayer works.  The apostle Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus” (I Thessalonians 5:18).  And, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

     Giving thanks to God for everything, including COVID-19, humbles us — deeply.  It reminds us that God’s providence is perfect and our point of view flawed.

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This story is just one of many ways God has used this pandemic to further his purposes in the world.  Should it surprise us that God might be less concerned about the health of our temporary bodies (or, our prosperity– but that’s another story) than He is about the eternal salvation of our souls?

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O Lord, we know not what is good for us.  

Thou knowest what it is.  

For it we pray.

–Prayer of the Khonds in North India

2342) God is in Control? (part two of two)

Pacific golden plover - Wikipedia

Pacific Golden Plover

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     (…continued)  To illustrate this let’s look at just two of God’s creatures.  First, consider the Pacific Golden Plover.  Everyone knows that many species of birds fly south in the winter, and it is fascinating to learn about the distances traveled by these delicate creatures, and their amazing built-in navigational instincts.  The Pacific Golden Plover is particularly interesting.  These birds spend their summers in the Arctic tundra of northern Alaska, and it is there that they breed.  They spend their winters in Hawaii.  Twice each year, they make this 3,000 mile trip over open water (thus, no landmarks by which to navigate), and it takes 3-4 days of non-stop flying.  This is an amazing feat– but there is more.  The new-born chicks in Alaska are able to fly when they are three weeks old, but it takes considerably longer before they are able to fly all the way to Hawaii.  In fact, when the adult plovers are ready head south in late August, the still not-ready chicks are left behind.  A few weeks later the young plovers depart—off on this 3,000 mile non-stop journey, over open water, to a place they have never been before; a few dots in the midst of the vast Pacific, the most remote place on the face of the earth.  There is no adult guidance, there are no visual markers, and there is no GPS (other than the one God implanted in their little brains).

     These birds, by instinct, are programmed to fly south every winter to that precise spot; and they all, always do that.  There is no rebellion by the Pacific Golden Plovers, or by any other migratory birds.  There is no saying ‘no,’ and there is no disobedience or not paying attention to the command.  They all, always do what God wants them to do and created them to do.

     Now consider another one of God’s creatures.  Timmy is a five year old North American human being.  God has made human beings much smarter than Golden Plovers.  Timmy can talk, he can do a little math, he can follow directions, and he can even read a simple map.  God has certainly given Timmy some incredible talents and skills that he did not give to Golden Plovers.

     God gave Timmy something else he did not give to plovers.  God gave Timmy a free will, so now even though Timmy is able to hear and understand and follow directions, he can choose to refuse to do as he is told.

     Imagine this scene.  Mommy and Daddy and Timmy are dressed and ready to go to church.  Timmy is told to go out the front door, walk down the sidewalk 35 feet, get in the car parked on the street, and wait for his parents.  He is specifically told to stay out of the huge mud puddle behind the car.  Timmy clearly comprehends all of these directions.  However, three minutes later when his parents come out of the house, they see Timmy jumping up and down in the mud.  Timmy, unlike the young plovers, did not have 3,000 miles to go over open water with no landmarks to try and get to a place he has never seen.  He only had 35 feet to go, down a clearly visible sidewalk, to a car he knows very well because he has been in it many times.  And he is much smarter than any plover.  Why couldn’t Timmy reach his goal?

    Because he did not want to!  He wanted to jump in the mud.  God has given Timmy what he has not given to the plovers; the freedom to do what he wants.  Pacific Golden Plovers do not say, “I don’t want to go to Hawaii this year.”  God has programmed them to go every year.  God has commanded Timmy to obey his parents, but God has given Timmy the free will to say no– and he does say no to his parents often.

     We are not pre-programmed to love and obey God.  We are free to turn our lives over to him, or to go our own way.  God loved us enough to give us that freedom, so that when that love is returned, it is real love and a real relationship, and not the response of a robot or of animal instinct. This kind of freedom is the basis of any true relationship.

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Homeschool Advice for ADHD Families: Learning at Home

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John 1:10-12  —  He (Jesus) was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God

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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Lord, give me the help and guidance I need to practice these virtues in all my actions in today.  For those ways I succeed in doing these things, I will give you thanks.  For those many times I fail, I will seek your grace.  When the day is done, I will rest in your peace, and tomorrow morning I will recommit myself to the same choices.

–Max Lucado (adapted)

2341) Is God in Control? (part one of two)

     What does it mean to say God is in control?

     First of all, “God is in control’ is not a Bible verse.  There are verses that do seem to proclaim that truth.  Psalm 103:19 says, “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”  And Isaiah 14:24 says, “The Lord Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will happen.”  But how does God rule and plan to carry out his purposes?  How does God ‘control’ what goes on in the world.

     This is a big question, and one could go on for weeks discussing all the various aspects of it.  I want to consider just one small piece of this very big puzzle.

      On the one hand, yes, Christians do believe that God is all powerful and is able to control everything he wants to control.  But, on the other hand, Christians also believe that God has chosen not to control everything.  God has chosen not to rule everything by power and force.  God rules much of creation that way– the movements of the stars and the sun and the planets and the workings of chemistry and physics and all of that sort of thing is completely under control.  It all runs with precision according to the plan God built into creation from the beginning.  The laws of nature always work like they are supposed to work.  Even the animals are programmed by instinct to know and do what they are supposed to do; and they do it.

     But there is one part of creation that God does not rule completely.  This is not because he can’t, but because he has chosen not to.  That part of creation is you and me.  God has chosen NOT to program us to move in strictly designated paths like the planets and the comets, or react in certain ways like the molecules.  Nor has he created us to live only by our instincts, like the animals.

     Unlike all the rest of creation, God has given us some freedom.  God created each of us with a soul and a spirit; “in His image” the Bible says, so that He could relate to us and love us, and so that we could, in return, love him and live in that relationship.  God wants our love and respect and attention to be freely given, and not forced or controlled, or programmed by instinct.

     God, therefore, relinquishes some of the power that he could exert.  Not all of it, of course.  The Bible says that he still holds us in his hand and cares for us and directs us and that even the hairs on our head are numbered.  But it is clear in the Bible that he has given us the freedom to return his love, to speak to him, to obey him, and to hear and learn his word.  We are free to do all that; OR, we are free to reject it all.  We are free to say ‘no’ to God and to go our own way.

     God reaches out to us, and His love and promises are freely given.  Jesus died for you and offers you a place in his home.  But God will not force or control your response. God does not force us to stay with him against our will.  God has not programmed us to obey the Ten Commandments.  As C. S. Lewis once wrote:  “There are two kinds of people; those who say to God, “Thy will be done;” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way.”  (continued…)

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C.S. Lewis Quote | Cs lewis quotes, Faith scripture, Christian quotes

 

2340) Sermon at an Execution

Samson Occom  (1723-1792)

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By Robert J. Morgan in One Hundred Bible Verses That Made America, 2020, pages 56-58.

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     In 1723, a Native American boy was born in a wigwam in the village of Mohegan in Connecticut.  He was named Occom.  He later wrote, “My parents lived a wandering life, as did all the Indians at Mohegan.  They chiefly depended upon hunting, fishing, and fowling for their living.”

     Occom was a teenager at the time of the Great Awakening, and his heart was opened to the gospel.  He committed his life to Christ and sought to learn to read the Bible.  Hearing about a school (later named Dartmouth) started by Rev. Eleazer Wheelock, a Congregational pastor, Occom enrolled.  Wheelock taught the boy to read, mentored him, and prepared him to serve Christ.

     On August 29,1759, Samson Occom was ordained into the Presbyterian ministry.  He labored among Native Americans, and in 1765, at the suggestion of George Whitefield, sailed to England to raise money for a charity school.  John Hancock helped pay his fare.  Occom took England by storm, with large crowds gathering for his sermons.  Everyone, including the king, wanted to meet him.  Occom returned to America a celebrity.

     His best known moment came when a fellow Mohegan, Moses  Paul, asked Occom to preach his execution sermon.  Paul had been convicted of murder, and in those days it was customary to have a sermon before the hanging.  On September 2, 1771, a crowd gathered at the First Church of New Haven as Moses Paul was escorted by guards and Occom stood in the pulpit.  (Here are just a few lines of what was a very long sermon):

It is an unwelcome task for me to speak upon such an occasion, but since it is the desire of the poor man himself, who is to die a shameful death this day, in conscience I cannot deny him…  The sacred words I have chosen to speak from, upon this undesirable occasion, are found in Romans 6:23:  ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’  Death is called the king of terrors, and it ought to be the subject of every man and woman’s thoughts daily…  We all come to it, how soon we cannot tell…  Sin has made man proud though he has nothing to be proud of…  Sin is the cause of all the miseries that attend poor sinful man, which will finally bring him to death– death temporal and eternal…  But heaven and happiness is a free gift; it comes by favor…  this life is given in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.  It could not be given in any other way, but in and through our Lord Jesus Christ; Christ Himself is the gift…  O poor Moses, see what you have done!  And now repent, repent…  O fly, fly, to the blood of the Lamb of God for the pardon of all your aggravated sins…  O Moses!  This is good news for you on this last day of your life.  Here is a crucified Savior at hand for your sins…  O, poor Moses, now believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, and you shall be saved eternally.

     The demand for copies of Samson Occom’s sermon resulted in it being printed, the first publication of a North American Indian in English.  It spread over the colonies, appearing in multiple editions, and became the unexpected means of bringing many to faith in Christ.

     To this day, debates rage about whether Moses Paul received a fair trial, but no one doubts the eloquence of Samson Occom.  He went on to publish many more sermons and hymns.  He was the country’s first Native American writer, preacher, and hymnist.  His text that day, Romans 6:23, was the core message of his life because it’s at the heart of the gospel message:  “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

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Romans 6:23  —  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Ezekiel 33:11  —  Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your evil ways!  Why will you die, people of Israel?’

Luke 23:39-43  — (at another execution)  One of the criminals who hung there (on the cross) hurled insults at Jesus: “Aren’t you the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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Jesus, remember me.

–Luke 23:42

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THE SERMON

Here is a longer version of the sermon that Samson Occom preached at the execution of Moses Paul.  Even this is not the entire sermon.  It is shortened by about twenty percent, but it is still almost 8,000 words long.  It is a good example of the preaching of the day– what we would now call ‘fire and brimstone.’  The style and tone may strike us as harsh, but there is nothing false in it, and it is not inconsistent with the whole judgment and Gospel message of the Bible.

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History of the Book 

A sermon, preached at the execution of Moses Paul, an Indian; who was executed at New-Haven, on September 2, 1772; for the murder of Mr. Moses Cook, late of Waterbury, on December 7, 1771.  Preached at the desire of said Paul by Samson Occom (from the published and widely distributed pamphlet).

The PREFACE.

The world is already full of books; and the people of God are abundantly furnished with excellent books upon divine subjects; and they have much, yea, enough and more than enough. And when I come to consider these things, I am ready to say with myself, “What folly and madness is it in me to suffer any thing of mine to appear in print, and to expose my ignorance to the world.”

It seems altogether unlikely that my performance will do any manner of service in the world, since the most excellent writings of worthy and learned men are disregarded. But there are two or three considerations that have induced me to be willing to allow my broken hints to appear in the world. One is, that the books that are in the world are written in very high and refined language, and the sermons that are delivered every Sabbath in general, are in a very high and lofty style, so that the common people understand but little of them. But I think they can’t help understanding my common, plain, every-day talk.  Little children may understand me; and poor Negroes fully understand my meaning, and it may be of service to them; and it may in a particular manner be serviceable to my poor kindred, the Indians.  Further, as it comes from an uncommon quarter, it may induce people to read it, because it is from an Indian.  Lastly, God works where and when he so chooses and by what instruments he sees fit, and he can and has used weak and unlikely instruments to bring about his great work.

INTRODUCTION

By the melancholy providence of God, and at the earnest desire and invitation of the poor condemned criminal, I am here before this great concourse of people at this time, to give the last discourse to the poor miserable object who is to be executed this day before your eyes, for the due reward of his folly and madness, and enormous wickedness. It is an unwelcome task to me to speak upon such an occasion; but since it is the desire of the poor man himself, who is to die a shameful death this day, in conscience I cannot deny him; I must endeavor to do the great work the dying man requests.

I conclude that this great concourse of people have come together to see the execution of justice upon this poor Indian; and I suppose the biggest part of you look upon yourselves as Christians, and as such I hope you will demean yourselves; and that you will have suitable commiseration towards this poor object.  Though you can’t in justice pray for his life to be continued in this world, yet you can pray earnestly for the salvation of his poor soul, consistently with the mind of God. Let this be therefore, the fervent exercise of our souls: for this is the last day we have to pray for him. As for you that don’t regard religion, it cannot be expected that you will put up one petition for this miserable creature: yet I would entreat you seriously to consider the frailty of corrupt nature, and behave yourselves as becomes rational creatures.

And in a word, let us all be suitably affected with the melancholy occasion of the day, knowing that we are all dying creatures, and accountable unto God. Though this poor condemned criminal will in a few minutes know more than all of us, either in unutterable joy, or in inconceivable woe, yet we shall certainly know as much as he, in a few days.

The sacred words that I have chosen to speak from upon this undesirable occasion, are found written in the epistle of St. Paul to the Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

DEATH is called the King of Terrors, and it ought to be the subject of every man and woman’s thoughts daily; because it is that unto which they are liable every moment of their lives: and therefore, it cannot be unseasonable to think, speak and hear of it at any time, and especially on this mournful occasion; for we must all come to it, how soon we cannot tell; whether we are prepared or not prepared, whether death is welcome or not welcome, we must feel the force of it: whether we concern ourselves with death or not, it will concern itself with us. Seeing that this is the case with every one of us, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness; how ought men to exert themselves in preparation for death continually; for they know not what a day or an hour may bring forth, with respect to them.

But, according to the appearance of mankind in general, death is the least thought of. They go on from day to day, as if they were to live here forever, as if this was the only life. They contrive, rack their inventions, disturb their rest, and even hazard their lives in all manner of dangers, both by sea and land; yea they leave no stone unturned that they may live in the world, and at the same time have little or no contrivance to die well: God and their souls are neglected, and heaven and eternal happiness are disregarded; Christ and his religion are despised—yet most of these very men intend to be happy when they come to die, not considering that there must be great preparation in order to die well. Yea there is none so fit to live as those that are fit to die; those that are not fit to die are not fit to live. Life & death are nearly connected; we generally own that it is a great and solemn thing to die. If this be true, then it is a great and solemn thing to live; for as we live, so we shall die. But I say again, how little do mankind realize these things? They are busy about the things of this world as if there was no death before them. Dr. Watts pictures them in one his poems:

See the vain race of mortals move

Like shadows o’er the plain,

They rage and strive, desire and love,

But all the noise is vain.

Some walk in honor’s gaudy show,

Some dig for golden ore,

They toil for heirs they know not who,

And soon are seen no more.

But on the other hand, life is the most precious thing and ought to be the most desired by all rational creatures. It ought to be prized above all things; yet there is nothing so abused and despised as life, and nothing so neglected: whereas eternal life is shamefully disregarded by men in general, and eternal death is chosen rather than life. This is the general complaint of the Bible from the beginning to the end. As long as Christ is neglected, life is refused, and as long as sin is cherished, death is chosen; and this seems to be the woeful case of mankind of all nations, according to their appearance in these days; for it is too plain to be denied, that vice and immorality, and floods of iniquity are abounding everywhere amongst all nations, and all orders and ranks of men, and in every sect of people. Yea, all nations, and from the highest to the lowest to practice sin and iniquity; and the pure religion of Jesus Christ is turned out of doors, and is dying without; or, in other words, the Lord Jesus Christ is turned out of doors by men in general, and even by his professed people. “He came to his own, and his own received him not.” But the devil is admitted, he has free access to the houses and hearts of the children of men: Thus life is refused and death is chosen. But in further speaking upon our text, I shall consider these two general propositions:

  1. That sin is the cause of all the miseries that befall the children of men, both as to their bodies and souls, for time and eternity.
  2. That eternal life and happiness is the free gift of God, throough Jesus Christ our Lord.

In speaking to the first proposition I shall first consider the nature of sin; and secondly shall consider the consequences of sin, or the wages of sin, which is death.

First then, we are to describe the nature of sin.

Sin is the transgression of the law; this is the scripture definition of sin. Now the law of God being holy, just and good; sin must be altogether unholy, unjust and evil. If I was define sin, I should call it a contrariety to GOD; and as such must be the vilest thing in the world; it is full of all evil; it is the evil of evils; in which dwells no good thing; and is most destructive to God’s creation, where ever it takes effect. It was sin that transformed the very angels in heaven, into devils; and it was sin that caused hell to be made. If it had not been for sin, there never would have been such a thing as hell, death, or misery.

Sin is full of deadly poison; it is full of malignity and hatred against God, against all his divine perfections and attributes, against his wisdom, against his power, against his holiness and goodness against his mercy and justice, against his written law and gospel; yea, against his very being and existence.

When Christ the Son of the Most High, came down from the glorious world above, into this wretched world of sin and sorrow, to seek and to save that which was lost, sin, or sinners rose up against him, as soon as he entered our world, and pursued him with hellish malice, night and day, for above thirty years together, till they killed him.

  1. I shall endeavor to shew the sad consequences or effects of sin upon the children of men.

Sin has poisoned them, and made them distracted or fools. The Psalmist says, ‘The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.’ And Solomon, throughout his Proverbs, calls ungodly sinners fools; and their sin he calls their folly, and foolishness.  And according to the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil, that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” And Christ Jesus said in John 3:19- 20: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doth evil hated the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Sin has stupefied mankind, they are now ignorant of God their maker; neither do they enquire after him. And they are ignorant of themselves, they know not what is good for them, neither do they understand their danger; and they have no fear of God before their eyes.

Further, sin has blinded their eyes, so that they can’t discern spiritual things; neither do they see the way that they should go, and they are deaf so that they cannot hear the joyful sound of the gospel that brings glad tidings of peace and pardon to sinners of mankind. Not only so, but sin has made man proud, though he has nothing to be proud of; for he has lost all his excellency, his beauty and happiness; he is a bankrupt, and is excommunicated from God; he was turned out of paradise by God himself, and become a vagabond in God’s world, and as such he has no right nor title to the least crumb of mercy in the world: yet he is proud, he is haughty, and exalts himself above God, though he is wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked. He glories in his shame. Sin has made him beastly and devilish; yea he is sunk beneath the beasts, and is worse than the ravenous beasts of the wilderness. He is become ill-natured, cruel and murderous; he is contentious and quarrelsome. I said he is worse than the ravenous beasts, for wolves and bears don’t devour their own kind, but man does.

Sin has made men dishonest and deceitful, so that he goes about cheating and defrauding and deceiving his fellow men in the world: yea, he is become a cheat himself, he goes about in a vain show; we don’t know where to find man. Sometimes we find as an angel of God; and at other times we find as a devil, even one and the same man. Sin has made man a liar even from the womb; so that there is no believing nor trusting him.  He had a pure and holy language in his innocence, to adore and praise God his maker.  He now curses, swears, and profanes the holy name of God, and curses and damns his fellow-creatures. In a word, man is a most unruly and ungovernable creature, and is harder to tame than any of God’s creatures in this world. In short, man is worse than all creatures in this lower world in his propensity is to evil.

We have given some few hints of the nature of sin, and the effects of sin on mankind.  We shall in the next place consider the wages or the reward of sin, which is death.  Sin is the cause of all the miseries that attend poor sinful man, which will finally bring him to death, temporal and eternal. I shall first consider his temporal death.

His temporal death then begins as soon as he is born. Though it seems to us that he is just beginning to live, yet in fact he is just entered into a state of death.  From the beginning man is surrounded with ten thousand instruments of death, and is liable to death every moment of his life; a thousand diseases await him on every side continually; the sentence of death is past upon them as soon as they are born: yea they are struck with death as soon as they breathe. And it seems all the enjoyments of men in this world are also poisoned with sin: for GOD said to Adam after he had sinned, “Cursed is the ground for thy sake, in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.” Thus death and destruction is in all the enjoyments of men in this life, every enjoyment in this world is liable to misfortune in a thousand ways, both by sea and land.

The fruits of the earth are liable to many judgments. And the dearest and nearest enjoyments of men are generally balanced with equal sorrow and grief. A man and his wife who have lived together in happiness for many years; that have comforted each other in various changes of life, must at last be separated; one or the other must be taken away first by death, and then the poor survivor is drowned in tears, in sorrow, mourning and grief. And when a dear child or children are taken away by death the bereaved parents are bowed down with sorrow and deep mourning.   And so when tender parents are taken away by death, the children are left comfortless.  All this is the sad effect of sin.  These are the wages of sin.

And secondly, we are to consider man’s spiritual death, while he is here in this world. We find it thus written in the word of God. ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou may freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge, of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it, for in the day that thou eat thereof thou shalt surely die.’ And yet he did eat of it, and so he and all his posterity, are but dead men. And St. Paul to the Ephesians said, ‘You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. All those who are in their sins, are dead in sins; yea, in trespasses and sins; which may signify all sorts of sins, habitual and actual; sins of heart and life. Sin is the death of the soul. Wherever that prevails, there is a privation of all spiritual life. Sinners are dead in state, being destitute of the principles and powers of spiritual life; and cut off from God, the fountain of life.

Let us consider further. God is a living God, he is all life, the fountain of life; and a sinner is a dead soul; there is nothing but death in him.  As sinners are dead to God, as such, they have no delight in God, and godliness; they have no taste for the religion of Jesus Christ; they have no pleasure in the holy exercises of religion. Prayer is no pleasant work with them; or if they have any pleasure in it, it is not out of love to God, but out of self-love.  Indeed they are dead to all the duties that God requires of them; they are dead to the Holy Bible; to all the laws, commands, and precepts thereof; and to the ordinances of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. When they read the book of God, it is like an old almanac to them, a dead book. But it is because they are dead, and as such, all their services are against God, even their best services are an abomination unto God; yea, a sinner is so dead in sin, that the threatenings of God don’t move them. All the curses in the bible, they are cursing them to their faces, and to their very eyes; yet they are unconcerned, and go on in sin without fear. And lastly here, sin has so stupefied the sinner that he will not believe his own senses; he won’t believe his own eyes, nor his own ears; he reads the book of God, but he does not believe what he reads. And he hears of God, and heaven, and eternal happiness, and of hell and eternal misery; but he believes none of these things; he goes on, as if there were no God, nor heaven and happiness; neither has he any fear of hell and eternal torments.  He sees his fellow men dropping away daily on every side, yet he goes on carelessly in sin, as if he never was to die. And if he at any time thinks of dying, he hardly believes his own thoughts. Death is at great distance, so far off, that he don’t concern himself about it, so as to prepare for it. God mournfully complains of his people, that they don’t consider; ‘O that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end.’

The next thing I shall consider, is the actual death of the body, or separation between soul and body. At the cessation of natural life, there is an end of all the enjoyments of this life; there is no more joy nor sorrow; no more hope nor fear, as to the body; no more contrivance and carrying on any business; no more merchandizing and trading; no more farming; no more buying and selling; no more building of any kind, no more contrivance at all to live in the world; no more flatteries nor frowns from the world; no more honor nor reproach; no more praise; no more good report, nor evil report; no more learning of any trades, arts or sciences in the world; no more sinful pleasures, they are all at an end; recreations, visiting, tavern haunting, music and dancing, chambering and carousing, playing at dice and cards, or any game whatsoever; cursing and swearing, and profaning the holy name of God, drunkenness, fighting, debauchery, lying and cheating, in this world, must cease forever. Not only so, but they must bid an eternal farewell to all the world; bid farewell to all their beloved sins and pleasures; and the places and possessions, that knew them once, shall know them no more forever. And further, they must bid adieu to all sacred and divine things. They are obliged to leave the Bible, and all the ordinances thereof; and to bid farewell to all opportunities to worship; yea, an eternal farewell to all mercy, and all hope; an eternal farewell to God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and adieu to heaven and all happiness, to saints and all the inhabitants of the upper world.

On the other hand, the poor departed soul must take up its lodging in sorrow, woe and misery, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched; where a multitude of frightful deformed devils dwell; where darkness, horror and despair reigns, where hope never comes, and where poor guilty naked souls will be tormented with exquisite torments, even the wrath of the Almighty poured out-upon their damned souls; the smoke of their torments ascending up forever and ever; their mouths and nostrils streaming forth with living fire; and hellish groans, howlings, cries and shrieks all round them, and merciless devils upbraiding them for their folly and madness, and tormenting them incessantly.  And there they must endure the most unsatiable, fruitless desire, and the most overwhelming shame and confusion, and the most horrible fear, and the most doleful sorrow, and the most racking despair. When they cast their flaming eyes to heaven, they behold an angry and frowning God, whose eyes are as a flaming fire, and they are struck with ten thousand darts of pain; and the sight of the happiness of the saints above, adds to their pains and aggravates their misery. And when they reflect upon their past folly and madness in neglecting the great salvation in their day, it will pierce them with ten thousand inconceivable torments; it will as it were enkindle their hell afresh; and it will cause them to curse themselves bitterly, and curse the day in which they were born. This is what is called the second death, and it is the last death, and an eternal death to a guilty soul.

And O eternity, eternity, eternity! Who can measure it? Who can count the years thereof? Arithmetic must fail, the thoughts of men and angels are drowned in it; how shall we describe eternity? To what shall we compare it? Were it possible to employ a fly to carry off this globe by the small particles thereof, and to carry them to such a distance that it should return once in ten thousand years for another particle, and so continue till it has carried off all this globe, and framed them together in some unknown space, till it has made just such a world as this is: after all eternity would remain the same unexhausted duration. This must be the unavoidable portion of all impenitent sinners, let them be who they will, great or small, honorable or ignoble, rich or poor, bond or free. Negroes, Indians, English, or of whatsoever nations, all that die in their sins, must go to hell together, for the wages of sin is death.

The next thing that I was to consider is this:  That eternal life and happiness is the free gift of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Under this proposition I shall endeavor to shew what this life and happiness is.

The life that is mentioned in our text is a spiritual life: it is the life of the soul, a restoration of soul from sin, to holiness, from darkness to light, a translation from the kingdom and dominion of Satan, to the kingdom of God’s grace. In other words, it is being restored to the image of God, and delivered from the image of Satan. And this life consists of the union of the soul to God; a real participation of the divine nature, or in the apostle’s words, it is Christ formed within us; I live, says he, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. And the apostle John said, God is love, and he that dwelleth in love, dwelleth in God, and God in him. This is the life of the soul. It is called emphatically life, because it is a life that shall never have a period, a stable, permanent, and unchangeable life, called in the scriptures, everlasting life, or life eternal. And the happiness of this life consists in communion with God, or in the spiritual enjoyment of God. As much as a soul enjoys of God in this life, just so much of life and happiness he enjoys or possesses; yea, just so much of heaven he enjoys. A true Christian, desires no other heaven, but the enjoyment of God, a full and perfect enjoyment of God, is a full and perfect heaven and happiness to a gracious soul.  So alive is he now to God, that it is his meat and drink to do the will of his heavenly Father. It is his delight, his happiness and pleasure to serve God. He does not drag himself to his duties now, but he does them out of choice, and with alacrity of soul. Yea, so alive is he to God, that he gives up himself and all that he has entirely to God, to be for him and none other; his whole aim is to glorify God in all things, whether by life or death, all the same to him.

Thus it was with Daniel and Paul; they went through fire and water, as the common saying is, because they had eternal life in their souls in eminent manner; and they regarded not this life, for the cause and glory of God. And thus it has been in all ages with true Christians. Many of the fore-fathers of the English in this country, had this life, and are gone the same way, that the holy prophets and apostles went. Many of them went through all manner of sufferings for God; and a great number of them are gone home to heaven, in chariots of fire. I have seen the place in London, called Smithfield, where numbers were burnt to death for the religion of Jesus Christ. And there is the same life in true Christians now in these days; and if there should persecutions arise in our day, I verily believe, true Christians would suffer with the same spirit and temper of mind, as those did, who suffered in days past.  This is the life which our text speaks of.

We proceed in the next place to shew, that this life, which we have described, is the free gift of God, thro’ Jesus Christ our Lord.

Heaven and happiness is a free gift; and all merit is excluded: and especially if we consider that we are fallen sinful creatures, and there is nothing in us that can recommend us to the favor of God; and we can do nothing that is agreeable and acceptable to God; and the mercies we enjoy in this life are altogether from the pure mercy of God; we are unequal to them. We have nothing to give unto God, if we give all the service that we are capable of, we should give him nothing but what was his own, and when we give up ourselves unto God, both soul and body, we give him nothing; for we were his before.  If we are thus unequal and unworthy of the least mercy in this life, how much more are we unworthy of eternal life? Yet God can find it in his heart to give it. And it is altogether unmerited; it is a free gift; it is altogether of God’s sovereign good pleasure to give it. It is of free grace and sovereign mercy, and from the unbounded goodness of God. And it is said that this life is given in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. It could not be given in any other way, but in and through the death and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ; Christ himself is the gift, and he is the Christian’s life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The word says further, “For by grace ye are saved, thro’ faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

I have now gone through what I proposed from my text. And I shall now make some application of the whole.

First to the criminal in particular; and then to the rest in general.

My poor unhappy brother Moses:

As it was your own desire that I should preach to you this last discourse, so I shall speak plainly to you. You are the bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh. You are an Indian, a despised creature; but you have despised yourself; yea you have despised God even more; you have trodden under foot his authority; you have despised his commands and precepts: and now, as God says, be sure your sins will find you out. And now, poor Moses, your sins have found you out, and they have overtaken you this day; the day of your death is now come; the king of terrors is at hand; you have but a very few moments to breathe in this world.  The just laws of man, and the holy law of Jehovah, call aloud for the destruction of your mortal life; God says, “Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” This is the ancient decree of heaven, and it is to be executed by man; nor have you the least gleam of hope of escape, for the unalterable sentence is past; the terrible day of execution is come; the unwelcome guard is about you; and the fatal instruments of death are now made ready; your coffin and your grave, your last lodging, are open ready to receive you.

Alas! poor Moses, now you know, by sad woeful experience, the living truth of our text, that the wages of sin is death. You have been already dead; yea twice dead: by nature spiritually dead. And since the awful sentence of death has been past upon you, you have been dead to all the pleasures of this life; and all the pleasures have been dead to you: And death, which is the wages of sin, is standing even on this side of your grave ready to put a final period to your mortal life; and just beyond the grave, eternal death awaits your poor soul, and the devils are ready to drag your miserable soul down to their bottomless den, where everlasting woe and horror reigns; the place is filled with doleful shrieks, howls and groans of the damned. Oh! to what a miserable, forlorn, and wretched condition have your extravagant folly and wickedness brought you, if you die in your sins. And O! what manner of repentance ought you to manifest! How ought your heart to bleed for what you have done! How ought you to prostrate your soul before a bleeding God! And under self-condemnation, cry out, ‘Ah Lord, ah Lord, what have I done!’ Whatever partiality, injustice and error there may be among the judges of the earth, remember that you have deserved a thousand deaths, and a thousand hells, by reason of your sins, at the hands of a holy God. Should God come out against you in strict justice, what could you say for yourself? for you have been brought up under the bright sun-shine, and plain, and loud sound of the gospel; and you have had a good education; you can read and write well; and God has given you a good natural understanding: and therefore your sins are so much more aggravated. You have not sinned in such an ignorant manner as others have done; but you have sinned with both your eyes open as it were, under the light, even the glorious light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  You have sinned against the light of your own conscience, against your knowledge and understanding; you have sinned against the pure and holy laws of God, and the just laws of men; you have sinned against heaven and earth; you have sinned against all the mercies and goodness of God; you have sinned against the blood of Christ, which is the blood of the everlasting covenant.

O poor Moses, see what you have done! Now repent, repent, I say again repent; see how the blood you shed cries against you, and the Avenger of Blood is at your heels. O fly, fly to the Blood of the Lamb of God for the pardon of all your aggravated sins.

But let us now turn to a more pleasant theme.  Though you have been a great sinner; yet hark and hear the joyful sound from heaven, even from the King of kings; that the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a free gift, and offered to the greatest sinners, and upon their true repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they shall be welcome to the life, which we have spoken of; it is offered upon free terms. He that hath no money may come; he that hath no righteousness, no goodness, may come; the call is to poor undone sinners; the call is not to the righteous, but sinners, calling them to repentance. Hear the voice of the Son of the most high God, Come unto me, all yea that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. This is a call, a gracious call to you, poor Moses, under your present burdens and distresses. And Christ alone has a right to call sinners to himself. If it were possible for you to apply to all God’s creatures, they would with one voice tell you, that it was not in them to help you. Go to all the means of grace, they would prove miserable helps, without Christ himself. Yea, apply to all the ministers of the gospel in the world, they would all say, that it was not in them, but would only prove as indexes, to point out to you, the Lord Jesus Christ, the only savior of sinners of mankind.  You see, poor Moses, that there is none in heaven, or on the earth, that can help you, but Christ; he alone has power to save, and to give life.—God the eternal hath appointed him, chose him, authorized, and fully commissioned him to save sinners. He came down from heaven, into this lower world, and became as one of us, and stood in our room.  As he became sin for us, he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; all our stripes were laid upon him; yea, he was finally condemned, because we were under condemnation; and at last was executed and put to death, for our sins; was lifted up between the heaven and the earth, and was crucified on the accursed tree; his blessed hands and feet were fastened there;—there he died a shameful and ignominious death and finished the great work of our redemption.

O Moses! this is good news to you, in this last day of your life; here is a crucified Savior at hand for your sins; his blessed hands are out-stretched, all in a gore of blood for you. This is the only Savior, an almighty Savior, just such as you stand in infinite and perishing need of. O, poor Moses! hear the dying prayer of a gracious Savior on the accursed tree, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ This was a prayer for his enemies and murderers; and it is for you, if you would only repent and believe in him. O why will you die eternally, poor Moses, since Christ has died for sinners? Why will you go to hell from beneath the bleeding Savior as it were? This is the day of your execution, it is the accepted time, it is the day of salvation if you will now believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Must Christ follow you into the prison by his servants, and there entreat you to accept of eternal life, and will you refuse it?  Shall you regard him not? O, poor Moses, now believe on the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart, and thou shalt be saved eternally.  Come just as you are, with all your sins and abominations, with all your filthiness, with all your blood-guiltiness, with all your condemnation, and lay hold of the hope set before you this day. This is the last day of salvation with your soul; you will be beyond the bounds of mercy in a few minutes more. O, what a joyful day would it be if you would now openly believe in and receive the Lord Jesus Christ; it would be the beginning of heavenly days; instead of a melancholy day.  All sorrow and fear will forever fly away, and tears be wiped from your face; and there shall you forever admire the astonishing and amazing and infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus, in pardoning such a monstrous sinner as you have been; there you will claim the highest note of praise, for the riches of free grace in Christ Jesus. But if you will not accept of a Savior so freely offered to you in this last day of your life, you must this very day bid farewell to God, to heaven and all the saints and angels that are there, and you must bid all the saints in this lower world an eternal farewell, and even the whole world. And so I must leave you in the hands of God.

Now, to all:

We may plainly see, from what we have heard, and from the miserable object before us, into what a doleful condition sin has brought mankind, even into a state of death and misery. We are by nature as certainly under sentence of death from God, as this miserable man is, by the just determination of man; and we are all dying creatures, and we are, or ought to be, sensible of it; and this is the dreadful fruit of sin. O! let us then fly from all appearance of sin; let us fight against it with all our might; let us repent and turn to our God, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may live forever; let us all prepare for death, for we know not how soon, nor how suddenly we may be called out of the world.

I shall now address myself particularly to the Indians, my brethren and kindred according to the flesh.  My poor kindred;

You see the woeful consequences of sin, by seeing this our poor miserable country-man now before us, who is to die this day for his sins and great wickedness. And it was the sin of drunkenness that has brought this destruction and untimely death upon him. There is a dreadful woe denounced from the Almighty against drunkards, and it is this sin, this abominable, this beastly and accursed sin of drunkenness, that has stripped us of every desirable comfort in this life; by this we are poor, miserable and wretched; by this sin we have no name nor credit in the world among polite nations; for this sin we are despised in the world, and it is all right and just, for we despise ourselves more; and if we don’t regard ourselves, who will regard us? And it is for our sins, and especially for that accursed, that most devilish sin of drunkenness that we suffer every day. For the love of strong drink we spend all that we have, and everything we can get. By this sin we can’t have comfortable houses, nor any thing comfortable in our houses; neither food nor raiment, nor decent utensils. We are obliged to put up any sort of shelter just to screen us from the severity of the weather; and we go about with very mean, ragged and dirty clothes, almost naked. And we are half starved, for most of the time obliged to pick up anything to eat. And our poor children are suffering every day for want of the necessaries of life; they are very often crying for want of food, and we have nothing to give them; and in the cold weather they are shivering and crying, being pinched with cold. All this is for the love of strong drink. And this is not all the misery and evil we bring on ourselves in this world; but when we are intoxicated with strong drink, we drown our rational powers, by which we are distinguished from the brutal creation; we unman ourselves, and bring ourselves not only level with the beasts of the field, but seven degrees beneath them; yea we bring ourselves level with the devils; I don’t know but we make ourselves worse than the devils, for I never heard of drunken devils.

My poor kindred, do consider what a dreadful abominable sin drunkenness is. God made us men, and we choose to be beasts and devils; God made us rational creatures, and we choose to be fools. Do consider further, and behold a drunkard, and see how he looks, when he has drowned as reason; how deformed and shameful does he appear? He disfigures every part of him, both soul and body, which was made after the image of God. If he attempts to speak he cannot bring out his words distinct, so as to be understood; if he walks he reals and staggers to and fro, and tumbles down. And see how he behaves, he is now laughing, and then he is crying; he is singing and the next minute he is mourning; and is all love to everyone, and then he is raging, and fighting all before him, even the nearest and the dearest relations and friends: Yea nothing is too bad for a drunken man to do.

Further, when a person is drunk, he is just good for nothing in the world; he is of no service to himself, to his family, to his neighbors, or his country; and how much more unfit is he in serve God: yet he is just fit for the service of the devil.

Again, a man in drunkenness is in all manner of danger he may be killed by his fellow-men, by wild beasts; he may fall into the fire, into the water, or into a ditch; or he may fall down as he walks along, and break his bones or his neck; he may cut himself with tools.  Further, if he has any money or anything valuable, he may lose it all, or may be robbed, or he may make a foolish bargain, and be cheated out of all he has.

I believe you know the truth of what I have just now said, many of you, by sad experience; yet you will go on still in your drunkenness. Though you have been cheated over and over again, and you have lost your substance by drunkenness, yet you will venture to go on in this most destructive sin. O fools when will ye be wise? We all know the truth of what I have been saying, by what we have seen and heard of drunken deaths. How many have been d drowned in our rivers, and how many frozen to death in the winter seasons! Yet drunkards go on without fear and consideration: alas, alas! What will become of all such drunkards? Without doubt they must all go to hell, except they truly repent and turn to God. Drunkenness is so common amongst us, that even our young men and young women are not ashamed to get drunk. Our young men will get drunk as readily as they will eat when they are hungry.

And to conclude, consider my poor kindred, you that are drunkards, into what a miserable condition you have brought yourselves. There is a dreadful woe thundering against you every day, and the Lord says, “That drunk shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

And now let me exhort you all to break off from your drunkenness, by a gospel repentance, and believe on the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved. Take warning by this doleful sight before us, and by all the dreadful judgments that have befallen poor drunkards. O let us all reform our lives, and live as becomes dying creatures, in time to come. Let us be persuaded that we are accountable creatures to God, and we must be called to an account in a few days. You that have been careless all your days, now awake to righteousness, and be concerned for your poor and never dying soul. Fight against all sins, and especially the sin that easily besets you, and behave in time to come as becomes rational creatures.

And above all things, receive and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall have eternal life; and when you come today your souls will be received into heaven, there to be with the Lord Jesus in eternal happiness, with all the saints in glory; which, God of his infinite mercy grant, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  AMEN.

2339) “This is Why Jesus Had to Die”

The Humbling of a Proud Hindu

“The Humbling of a Proud Hindu:  How God got my attention when I thought I was too good for grace.”

By Kamesh Sankaran, at http://www.christiainitytoday.com , May 18, 2020.  Sankaran teaches engineering and physics at Whitworth University.

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     In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to the Jewish leader Nicodemus, who was curious but also confused about the notion of being born again.  In the course of explaining the difference between birth through ordinary means and birth through the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

These words capture something of my own experience of new birth.  At the time I came to faith, I was a PhD student in aerospace engineering at Princeton—the sort of person, in other words, who ought to have known about things like the source and consequences of airflow.  Even so, I was utterly perplexed by what had happened.  Like Nicodemus, the source and consequences of being born again were beyond my comprehension.

     Looking back at the events in my life—more than 20 years after my conversion—I can see with greater clarity how God was working behind the scenes.  My struggle against him, fueled by ignorance and pride, was utterly futile.

     I grew up in southern India in a small city.  My brothers and I were first-generation high school graduates, so the fact that I ended up working toward a NASA-funded PhD in advanced space propulsion at Princeton is nothing less than a miracle.  And, like many miracles recorded in Scripture, it had a deeper purpose: to draw me to Christ.

     My hometown is prominent in Hinduism because of its historic temples and a renowned monastery.  Hinduism is in the soil, water, and air.  I grew up in a devout Hindu family that was in the highest echelons of religious leadership.  My commitment to Hinduism grew deeper when I left home at age 11 to study at a boarding school run by a prominent religious leader, where I excelled beyond the expectations of my family and my teachers.  Paul’s testimony, in Galatians 1, of “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people” (v. 14), applied just as well to my progress in Hinduism.  Many years later, I would become a leader in the Hindu Students Association at Princeton.

     Before arriving there, I had been exposed to Christianity through friends, the prominence of Catholic colleges in India, and Christian movies released in the US.  I was also intellectually curious about various world religions.  I remember seeing the icons and statues in Orthodox and Catholic churches and thinking them to be similar to the gods I worshiped.  I did not consider Christianity to be fundamentally different from Hinduism, but merely an appropriate religion for a different society.

     On the other hand, I harbored a deep disdain for Christian cultural and moral values, as they were represented by Western culture.  Like most Hindus today, I thought they were a form of debauchery.  Compared to the teachings of Hinduism, they seemed intolerably lax.  In my mind, then, Jesus could qualify as one among many in the pantheon of gods, but nothing more.  My commitment to Hinduism also included a strong nationalist element, and this resulted in a deep mistrust and antipathy toward religious conversion—especially conversion to Christianity.

     Despite this, God was crucially at work, preparing me to receive Christ through my friendship with a fellow PhD student.  As I worked alongside him for more than twelve hours a day, I respected him as a colleague, and eventually I became close friends with him and his family.  On a few occasions, the Cross of Christ came up in casual conversation.  Sensing that I was missing something, my friend explained that Jesus Christ died bearing our sins to reconcile us to God.

     This was something I had never heard before.  And it offended me! I was a deeply religious person, someone diligently striving to be good.  How could my friend think that anyone, much less someone like me, was a sinner in need of salvation?  Yes, I had problems, but wasn’t I capable of fixing them myself?  Why would I need Jesus to bear my sins?

Out of respect for a friend and fellow researcher, I asked him to provide evidence for his explanation of the Cross.  He readily encouraged me to read Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, an author I recognized from his other popular works.  But I quickly realized that I needed to go directly to the primary source, so I asked my friend to buy me a Bible.

     Over the next few months, other stories from the Bible came up in our conversations.  The parable of the Prodigal Son did not sit right with me, in part because God was not supposed to be like the forgiving and ‘lax’ father in that story.  He was supposed to reward good moral conduct, not irresponsible rebellion.  In reality, I identified more closely with the other son, who did not seem to need grace.  The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9–14) also blew the fuse of my understanding of God.  How could a man who defrauded his own people by conspiring with foreign occupiers have a better outcome before God than a religious leader who followed all the rules?  I had to get to the bottom of this Christian “thing.”

     Along with my intellectual quest, God was showing me the futility of my resistance.  In a brief but decisive period, God exposed my false sense of self-sufficiency, which I had based on financial prosperity, academic success, and a strong relationship with my family.  In short order, I experienced unexpected and unexplainable failures in each of these areas—financial, academic, and relational.  The blows came from different directions, but their cumulative effect was devastating.  By removing the frail crutches on which my life was built, God exposed the reality of my profound weakness—especially my utter inability to fix the brokenness in my relationships.  I was in more pain than I had imagined possible, and I was devoid of the props on which I was accustomed to resting.

     Knowing no other way out, I decided to end my own life.  In the midst of this darkness, a voice within me spoke: “This is why Jesus had to die for you.”  It came from nowhere, but at that moment my brokenness pointed to a greater brokenness in my relationship with God.  I had nothing to lose, so I decided to ask my friend if I could attend church with him.  My call came on a Sunday morning, just as he and his family were leaving the house to attend worship.  That morning I heard the gospel, and I responded with a broken and open heart.

     My experience of becoming a Christian wasn’t like flipping a switch.  Believing the gospel didn’t automatically lead me to conformity to Jesus Christ or produce the immediate fruit of righteousness in me.  While I desperately desired the gift of forgiveness, I was reluctant to change anything else about my life or worldview.  Given the enormous differences between Christianity and my earlier Hindu beliefs, my new life had to be nurtured before spiritual growth could occur.

     Intellectually, I wrestled with three fundamental questions: Who is God?  Who am I?  What is my relationship with God?  The more I pondered these questions, the clearer it became that the answers offered by Hinduism and Christianity are utterly incompatible.  I had to reject the former to receive the latter.  Functionally, I had to rethink all of life from a clean slate because I simply did not have a framework or vocabulary to make sense of my new identity.

Paul needed an Ananias to spark his conversion, but he also needed a Barnabas to accompany him in his new journey of faith.  God similarly ordained the support I needed to grow as a disciple.  While Hinduism ties one’s religious standing to one’s birth status, Christianity teaches that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.  My new Christian community cared not about my first birth but about my new birth: my confession of faith, my commitment to fellowship, and my desire to live wholly for Christ.

     Every genuine Christian conversion is a miracle—a transition from spiritual death to eternal life, from enmity with God to adoption into his family.  Yet God seems to take special delight in seemingly impossible cases—like Paul, a former persecutor—so that the riches of his grace might shine all the brighter.  When I consider the chasm between my old outlook on life and my new life in Christ, I can only marvel at God’s work of redemption—and fall down at his feet in praise.

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Romans 3:23-4  —  All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

I Corinthians 15:3  —  What I received I passed on to you as of first importance:  that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

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Jesus, I believe you died and rose again for me.  Please forgive all my sins.  I want to be saved.  Jesus, come into my heart today.  Amen.

2338) He Said What? (part two of two)

     (…continued)  We are talking about God and eternity, so it should not surprise us that there are things we don’t understand YET.   From the very earliest times, Christian theologians have talked about the ‘mysteries of the faith.’  They had a lot to say about that because the New Testament itself speaks of such mysteries.   Our word ‘mystery’ comes directly from a similar Greek word, mysterion, which appears 27 times in the New Testament.  In Biblical Greek it refers to “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.”  These ‘mysteries of the faith,’ says the church, are things which cannot be known until they are explained to us by God.  I am willing to wait for that.

     There are some things we can say.  First of all, Christians are not cannibals.  Talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is a symbolic reminder of how Christ died in the flesh for us and shed his blood for us.  The bread and wine are more than that, yes, but they are not literal flesh and blood.  Also, this is a symbol that was more understandable in a culture that still offered bloody animal sacrifices.  And, the more striking and outrageous a symbol is, the more readily it is remembered.  And it is also the nature of symbols that they require some explanation, so you aren’t going to fully understand it the first time you see it or hear about it.  One could give an entire sermon on symbols and how they work.  Indeed, whole books have been written about the use of symbolism.  All that would be a part of understanding these words of Jesus.  Even then we still might, like those in John 6, find this to be a difficult teaching.  But this meditation is not about all of that.  Rather, I am simply trying to do what Peter did, setting aside some problems with the details, in order to stay focused on the primary message.

     This is illustrated in an old story.  You may have heard it before.  I’ve seen it in many books, some from as far back as 150 years ago.  It is an illustration that I have found helpful in my own approach to the faith.

     Two men are sitting next to each other in a train.  One is reading his Bible, the other is eating a fish dinner.  The man eating the fish said to the man reading the Bible, “Have you read that whole book?”

     “Yes I have,” said the man with the Bible.

     “Do you believe it all?” was the next question.

     “Yes I do,” said the man with the Bible.

     “But do you even understand it all?” asked the questioner.

     “No, I sure don’t,” said the Bible reader.

     “Well,” said the man eating his dinner.  “What do you do about those parts you don’t understand?”

     “Well,” said the man reading the Bible, “I do what you are doing as you eat that fish.  I have noticed that when you come across a bone, you set it aside, and get on with eating the good meat of the fish.  You don’t insist on choking on the bones, do you?  And I don’t choke on those parts of the Bible I don’t understand.  Rather, I set those parts aside, at least for the time being, and I go on and learn from and obey those parts that are clear to me and that I do understand.”

     I have come to believe in the truth of the Bible and the truth of Jesus as Lord and Savior.  I know of nothing else like it in all the world.  So when I come across something that I don’t understand I, like Peter, am staying with the One who has the words of eternal life, even if I do not yet fully comprehend all he says.

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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.”

John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

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PRAYER BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION:

I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first.  I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood.  Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance.  And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting…

Like the thief I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.

May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be… to the healing of soul and body.  Amen.

–Orthodox Church in America website (www.oca.org)

2337) He Said What? (part one of two)

     Jesus says in John 6:53-54, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  He said what?  Eating flesh and drinking blood?  That sounds so strange, even to those of who have been around the church for a while and know that Jesus is talking about Holy Communion.  To someone who is not familiar with the language of the church, these verses are absurd.

     This statement caused a scandal even when Jesus first said it.  Verse 60 says that many people responded by saying, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?”  In verse 66 we are told that many people turned back and no longer followed Jesus.

     A few years later, when the early church was being persecuted, one of the charges made against the believers was that they were cannibals.  This was because informers who had infiltrated the worship services, heard the leaders speaking about eating and drinking someone’s body and blood.  The first thing we have to do when we look at a reading like this is honestly acknowledge how bizarre it sounds.

     But then the second thing we will want to do with a text like this, is, read it all the way through to the end, and see if that helps.  I think it does.  First, there is this difficult conversation and we are told that many people turn away from Jesus.  Then, in verse 67 Jesus turned to the twelve disciples and said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”  Peter, speaking for the group replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

     Peter’s reply gives us the key to reading this strange text, and it can help us with those many other difficult verses in the Bible.

     Think about this from Peter’s perspective.  In this same chapter six the disciples saw Jesus feed five thousand hungry people with one boy’s lunch, and they saw Jesus walk on water.  In other chapters, they saw Jesus heal the sick and the lame, give sight to the blind, restore hearing to the deaf, calm a storm at sea with a verbal command, and even raise the dead.  Jesus had earned a great deal of credibility with these men.  Now they heard him say something very strange and they probably were just as puzzled as the rest of the crowd.  But they were remembering everything else Jesus said and did, so they were not about to leave.  

     However, notice Peter did not say, “Oh no, Jesus, why should we leave?  We get it.  Eating flesh and drinking blood?– no problem there for us.”  Peter did not say that, and I am sure the twelve disciples were also scratching their heads in bewilderment.   Peter did not say, “No problem,” but said, “Where else are we going to go, Jesus?  You (and you alone) have the words of eternal life.”

     Eternal life.  Where else indeed would we go for that?  It is not like Peter could say, “You are getting a little weird on us Jesus, so we are going to go find someone else that can raise the dead and promise us eternal life.”  There weren’t any other offers on the table.  There wasn’t then, and there isn’t now.

     Peter’s words have taught me how to respond to these difficult words and others like them in the Bible.  I will not attempt to sugar-coat any of this by searching the web for some lame explanation.  I must acknowledge that there is much in the Bible that is still strange to me, even after all these years of reading it.

     But first I must ask who am I to decide what makes sense and what sounds strange?  It is not for me to stand in judgement over God’s Word.  For many good reasons I, like the disciples, have come to believe that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, who visited this earth to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and then rose from the dead to offer me eternal life, and that there has never been anyone else like him.  So when I come across something I do not understand, I am not going to walk away from Jesus.  But I will acknowledge that I don’t understand it YET, and maybe never will in this life.  But I am not going anywhere else, because there is nowhere else to go. 

     “Lord, to whom shall we go,” said Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.”  (continued…)

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John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

Acts 4:10-12  —  Peter said, “Know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

John 14:  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

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Eternal God, your wisdom is greater than our minds can attain, and your truth shows up our learning.  To those who study, give curiosity, imagination, and patience enough to wait and work for insight.  Help us to doubt with courage, but to hold all our doubts in the larger faith of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, 1993

2336) Praying to Die

From a Funeral Sermon

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      Many people have asked me if it is wrong to ask God to let them die.  Others, like Albert, did not feel the need to ask for my opinion.  But Albert has been praying for the last several months for death to come.  He has been saying, in so many words, “Lord, I’m ready anytime you are.”   Albert has been waiting for this day.  He has said so many times.

     What should we say about that?  Is wrong to want to die so much that you pray for it?  Shouldn’t we want to hang on to life no matter what?  

     The answer to this question has two parts.  First of all yes, of course it’s okay.  You can say anything you want to God in prayer.  He invites us to come to Him with all our desires, needs, thoughts and emotions, right or wrong.  Your Heavenly Father wants to hear from you whatever you want to tell him; just like earthly parents want their children to feel comfortable coming to them with anything that is on their mind.  God, like a good father or mother, will sort through our many requests, and then, in His infinite wisdom will decide what is best for us and when, and He will answer our prayers as He sees fit.  So yes, we can bring to God whatever is on our mind; but then it is for you to trust in Him and leave it in His hands, praying as we do in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”

     But on a deeper level we must ask if that a good and proper prayer.  Should we pray for the end of our life?  Well, that depends on who you are and where you are at in your life and why you want to die.  If you are 25 years old and going through some temporary bad times and just sick of it all, well than no, you should not be praying for your life to end.  You should be praying for a way out of your troubles and for the Lord to give you the strength to bear them until you do see your way through.

     But if, like Albert, you are 79 years old and you are used to being active and working and now you aren’t; and if you can’t sleep at night and can’t stay awake during the day; and if you have a half a dozen serious health problems that are combining to make you miserable most of the time, and you are unable to find help or relief; and not only that, but, if you believe like Albert did, that Jesus has gone on ahead to prepare another place for you; well then there is nothing at all wrong with saying, as Albert did many times on days when he was not well, “You can take me home anytime Lord, I am ready.”  Even then we must leave such matters in God’s hands.  If God thinks there is a reason for us to stay here longer, that is up to Him and we have to stay.  But there is nothing wrong with praying, “Lord, I’m ready.’

     There is a good Biblical example of just such a prayer by another good man.  It is in Luke chapter two, right after the Christmas story.  When the baby Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph took him into the temple for the customary presentation before the Lord:

Now there was an old man living in Jerusalem named Simeon, who was righteous and devout.  He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  Moved by the Spirit, he went into the Temple courts.  When the parents brought in the child Jesus, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying, “Lord, now you may let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people.”  (Luke 2:25-31)

     Or in other words, “Take me now, Lord, I am ready.”  Simeon lived to see the fulfillment of God’s promise and now the old man was ready to die.  In fact, it was his prayer.  In the great old words of the King James Version he prays, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”  

     That is a good prayer.  Remember it.  You too may want to use it sometime.  When the time is right, it is a wonderful prayer.  It is right out of the Bible.  Albert’s words might have been a bit different, but his wishes were the same as old Simeon’s; and there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, it is a great blessing to be ready and willing to go when the Lord is ready to call you.  Just about every week for 79 years Albert was here, in this sanctuary, for the Sunday morning meeting with the Lord.  He wasn’t afraid this week to face death and meet Jesus in person.  He was praying for it.

     We all know that we are not permanent residents on this little planet.  We may be called to leave this world and this life at any time, and we might not want to go.  I, for one, am in no hurry; not at this point in my life.  That is also good and right.  When we are healthy and feel good, and we’ve worked hard to get our lives in order, and we are enjoying our family and friends, then we might want to pray, “Lord, don’t take me now; I want to stay a while.  I like it here.”  And that’s a good prayer, too.  It can be said in gratitude for the goodness of God’s gift of life and this good earth that God has given us right here, right now.  But we need to remember that we must not hold on too tightly.  Whether we are praying to go on to our heavenly home, or to stay here in this home, we must always be willing to add the same petition, “Thy will be done, O Lord.”

     As we all know, the golden years of retirement are not always golden.  The problems of old age and poor health can take all the pleasure out of living.  But even these problems can serve God’s purposes, reminding us that this earth is not our home.  Our aches and pains and other miseries can begin to pry our fingers away from the all too tight grip we may have on this life.  Poor health can make us begin to look forward to that other home, which the Lord has gone on ahead to prepare for us.  And in that place, as the Bible says, there will be no more illness, aches or pains; no more death or funerals; and no more tears or grieving.

     This earthly home can be a pretty good place much of the time.  Albert had many good years here of health and strength, a loving family, and lots of friends.  There were many good years of farming and trucking, of being married and raising a family, of fishing with the grandchildren, playing cards with friends, going to old-time dances, 4th of July picnics, and church potlucks.  God certainly does give us a bounty of blessings here.  This earth He has created is a wonderful place to be much of the time.  But not all the time, and sometimes the troubles can overwhelm us.  Someday we, like Albert, will be completely overwhelmed and we will die.  We will be forced to leave this good home, ready or not.   

     Even though this world can be a pretty good place much of the time, we have a promise from Jesus that he will take us to a place that is even better.  Jesus gave the disciples that promise in John chapter 14, where he said:  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God, trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms, and I am going there to prepare a place for you.  I will come back and take you to be with me, so that you also may be where I am.  I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.”

     Believe in Jesus and you will be all right, now and forever.

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Ecclesiastes 12:1  —  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.”

Luke 2:29  —  Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.

 Philippians 1:21  —  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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And you most kind and gentle death,
Waiting to hush our final breath,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
You lead to heaven the child of God,
Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.

O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

All Creatures of Our God and King, verse six, St Francis  (1181-1226)

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O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen ...