2213) Why I Make Sam Go to Church

Related image

Anne Lamott, author, teacher, activist  (1954- )

By Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Pantheon Press, 1999, pages 99-103.

     Sam is the only kid he knows of who goes to church, who is made to go to church two or three times a month.  He rarely wants to.

     This is not exactly true.  The truth is he never wants to go.  What 7-year-old would rather be in church than hanging out with a friend?  It does not help him to be reminded that once he’s there he enjoys himself, that he gets to spend the time drawing in the little room outside the sanctuary, or that he only actually has to sit still and listen during the short children’s sermon.

     It does not help that I always pack some snacks, some Legos, his art supplies, and any friend of his whom we can lure into our churchy web.  It does not help that he genuinely cares for the people there.  All that matters to him is that he alone of all of his colleagues is forced to spend Sunday morning in church.

     You would think, noting the bitterness and the resignation, that he was being made to sit through a six-hour Latin mass.  Or you might wonder why I make this strapping, exuberant boy come with me most weeks.  And if you were to ask, this is what I would say.

     I make him because I can.  I outweigh him by nearly l00 pounds.

     But that is only part of it.  The main reason is that I want to give Sam what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by.  Most of the people I know who are doing well psychologically, who seem conscious, who do not drive me crazy with their endlessly unhappy dramas; the only people I know who feel safe, who have what I want—connection, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality.  They are people in community, who pray, and who practice their faith.  They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own little candle; and they are part of something beautiful.  I saw something once from the Jewish Theological Seminary that said, “A human life is like a single letter of the alphabet.  It can be meaningless.  Or it can become a part of a great meaning.”  Our funky little church is filled with people who are working for peace and freedom, who are out there on the streets and inside praying, and they are at the shelters with giant platters of food.

     When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on.  It is where I was taken in when I had nothing to give.  The church became my home in the old meaning of home—that it’s where, “when you show up, they have to let you in.”  They let me in.  They even said, “You come back now.”

     My relatives all live in the Bay Area and I adore them, but they are all as skittishly self-obsessed as I am, which I certainly mean in the nicest possible way.  Let’s just say that I do not leave family gatherings with the feeling that I have just received some kind of spiritual chemotherapy.  But I do when I leave St. Andrew though.  It’s like something horrible inside of me is healing.

 “Let’s go, baby,” I say cheerfully when it is time for us to leave for church, and Sam looks up at me like a puppy eyeing the vet who is standing there holding the needle.

     Sam was welcomed and prayed for at St. Andrew seven months before he was born.  When I announced during worship that I was pregnant, people cheered.  All these old people, raised in Bible-thumping homes in the Deep South, clapped.  Even the women whose grown-up boys had been or were doing time in jails or prisons rejoiced for me.  It was so amazing.

     I was single, only recently sober, and had no money.  So immediately they set about providing for us.  They brought clothes, they brought furniture, they brought me casseroles to keep in the freezer, and they brought me assurance that this baby was going to be a part of the family.  And they began slipping me money.

     Now, a number of the older black women live pretty close to the bone financially on small Social Security checks.  But routinely they sidled up to me and stuffed bills in my pocket—tens and twenties.  It was always done so stealthily that you might have thought they were slipping me cocaine.  One of the most consistent donors was a very old woman named Mary Williams, who is in her mid-eighties now, so beautiful with her crushed hats and hallelujahs.  She always brought me plastic Baggies full of dimes, noosed with little wire twists.

     I was usually filled with a sense of something like shame, until I’d remember that wonderful line of Blake’s—that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love; and I would take a long deep breath and force these words out of my strangulated throat: “Thank you.”

     I first brought Sam to church when he was five days old.  The women there very politely pretended to care how I was doing but were mostly killing time until it was their turn to hold Sam again.  They called him “our baby” or sometimes “my baby.”  “Bring me my baby!” they’d insist.  “Bring me that baby now!”  “Hey, you’re hogging that baby.”  I believe that they came to see me as Sam’s driver, hired to bring him and his gear back to them every Sunday.

     Mary Williams always sits in the very back by the door.  She is one of those unusually beautiful women—beautiful like a river.  She has dark skin, a long broad nose, sweet full lips, and quiet eyes.  She raised five children as a single mother, but one of her boys drowned when he was young, and she has the softness and generosity and toughness of someone who has endured great loss.  During the service she praises God in a nonstop burble, a glistening dark brook.  She says, “Oh, yes… Uh-huh… My sweet Lord… Thank you, thank you.”

     Sam loves her, and she loves him, and she still brings us baggies full of dimes, even though I’m doing so much better now.  Every Sunday I nudge Sam in her direction, and he walks to where she is sitting and hugs her.  Then Sam leaves the sanctuary and returns to his drawings, his monsters, dinosaurs, birds.

I watch Mary Williams pray sometimes.  She clutches her hands together tightly and closes her eyes only most of the way, so that she looks blind; and she is so unself-conscious that you get to see someone in a deeply interior pose.  You get to see all that private intimate resting.  She looks as if she’s holding the whole earth together, or making the biggest wish in the world. “Oh yes, Lord… Uh-huh.”

     It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox, full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience.  But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools—friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty—and said, Do the best you can with these, they will have to do.  And mostly, against all odds, they’re enough.

***********************************************

Psalm 119:105  —  Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Galatians 6:2  —  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

***********************************************

Posted at St. Stephen’s Walbrook church, London; written by Bishop Thomas Ken  (1637-1711):

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship; narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife.  Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power.  God make the door of this house the gateway to thine eternal kingdom.

2212) “Spell Cat”

Image result for asking father for hand in marriage images

“Permission to marry your daughter, sir?”

——————————-

     One day many years ago, a young man wanted to marry a certain young woman.  The woman insisted, as was customary at the time, that the man ask her father to grant them his permission to marry.  The young man knew that the girl’s father was a good and kind man, but he was still very nervous about asking him this important question.  Finally, he talked to him. “Sir,” he said, “I would like to request your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

     The older man looked at him sternly and without speaking for a long time.  Finally he said, “Meet me here at my home at 3:00 tomorrow morning.  I would like to ask you a couple questions to see if you would be a suitable husband for my daughter.”

     At precisely 3:00 the next morning, the young man knocked on the door. The servant showed him into the living room, where the young man sat down and waited– and waited and waited. For five hours he waited. Finally, at 8:00 the older man walked in and proceeded to ask his questions.

     “Young man,” he said, “Do you know how to spell?” 

     “Yes, sir,” said the young man.

     “All right,” said the older man, “spell cat.”

     “Cat, C-A-T,” was the response.     

     “Good,” said the old man.  “Do you also know something about figures?” 

     “Yes, I know a bit,” said the younger man. 

     “Good.  What is two plus two?” 

     “Four,” replied the lad.

     “That’s splendid,” said the man’s future father-in-law getting up to shake hands.  “I would be most pleased to grant you my daughter’s hand in marriage.”

     The bewildered, but pleased young man left, and the girl’s father went in to tell his wife the news that their daughter would indeed be marrying that fine young man.  “But how could you tell anything after such a short conversation?,” asked his wife.

     “Well,” said the husband, “it wasn’t only what he said, but it was also what he did.  First of all, I was testing him on self-denial.  I told him to be here at 3:00 in the morning.  He left a warm bed and came out in the cold without a word of complaint.  Second, I tried him out on courtesy; and he was courteous enough to be here right on time.  Third, I examined him on patience.  I made him wait five hours to see me.  Fourth, I was testing him on irritability and resentment; and he did not show any sign of it, and did not even question my delay.  Fifth, I tried out his humility.  I asked him questions that a five year old could answer and he showed no pride or indignation.  And I also found out that he knows how to look for the best in people.  Last night I asked our daughter how he responded to having to come here at 3:00 in the morning.  She said he told her that he knew her father was good man, and even though the appointed time was unusual, he trusted there must be some good reason.  I found out a great deal about that young man, and I am convinced he will make a good husband for our daughter.”

     Even though the father had intentionally set up that unpleasant situation, it did serve to show him how the young man would respond to the many irritations that would inevitably be a part of marriage.  The young man responded with grace, trust, respect, courtesy, and patience, even though he did not understand what was going on; and that told the father everything he needed to know.

     In I Corinthians 13 we read that love is patient and it is kind.  Love also, it says, bears all things and endures all things.  Love, it goes on to say, is not irritable, it is not resentful, and it is not arrogant or rude.  And love rejoices in the right and does not rejoice in the wrong; or we might say, it does not insist on looking only for the bad in every situation and person, but looks also for the good.  Love will give another person the benefit of the doubt, as the young man did for his fiance’s father.

     When people are irritable, resentful, arrogant, and rude, those negative qualities described in I Corinthians 13, then conflict will always be present, even when problems are small.  That father knew that in a good marriage one needs to think the best, not the worst of their spouse, and to be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  There would be many times that young man would have reason to be irritable, but would need to be patient; times he would have reasons to be resentful, but would need to be understanding; times he could be offended or insulted, but would need to be gracious and have the ability to overlook a wrong done.

     A marriage is built on a firm foundation if it is built on the foundation of God’s love and God’s guide for love in the Bible.

***********************************

I Corinthians 13:4-5  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

I Corinthians 13:6-7  —  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I Corinthians 13:13  —  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

***********************************
A Wedding Prayer (Irish)

By the power that Christ brought from heaven, mayst thou love me.
As the sun follows its course, mayst thou follow me.
As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry,
As joy to the heart, may thy presence be with me,
Oh one that I love, ’til death comes to part us asunder.

2211) Muslim Cleric and Orthodox Christian Agree

Image result for tim keller encounters with Jesus Images

———————–

By Randy Alcorn posted June 9, 2017 on his website at:  http://www.epm.org

———————————————-

     A Barna survey found that 59% of American adults believe that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God even though they have different names and beliefs regarding God.”  And it’s not just secular people who believe that “all religions are basically the same”:

     One-quarter of born again Christians said that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God (25%) and that it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons (26%).  An even larger percentage of born again Christians (40%) indicated that they believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

     A 2017 Barna Poll found that “almost three in 10 (28%) practicing Christians strongly agree that ‘all people pray to the same god or spirit, no matter what name they use for that spiritual being.’”

     But truth-claims in all religions—including Christianity—are by nature exclusive.  Jesus didn’t say, “I am way and truth and life; I’m one way to come to the Father.”  He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis added).  If someone says Jesus isn’t the primary truth, then either he’s wrong or Jesus is.

     How many routes can take us to the Father in Heaven?  In Acts 4:12 Peter preached, “Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

     Yet many continue to insist that Christ was merely a good teacher, and just one of many ways to God— perhaps because if the Bible is true and we’ll be held accountable to God, then we realize we’re in trouble.  Many people don’t want to hear there’s a God who created us, says we are sinners, makes demands on our lives, and claims to be our Judge that we must answer to.  (The flip side of that bad news about our sin and accountability is the very Good News that Jesus, God’s own Son, came to earth as a man, suffered and died in our place, rose again, and freely offers us forgiveness and eternal life!)

 In his book Encounters With Jesus, Tim Keller writes:

  Some years ago I was on a panel with a Muslim cleric, talking about our differences in front of a group of college students.  And one college student kept insisting, “Well, I listened to you both for twenty minutes, and I want you to know that I just don’t see any real difference between you. I just don’t see any difference between the religions.  It seems like you’re basically saying God is love and we should love God and love one another.”  In our responses to the student the Muslim cleric and I were in complete agreement.  At first glance it looks tolerant to say “you are both alike,” but each of us argued gently that the student was not showing enough respect to listen to each religion’s distinctive voice.  Each faith had made unique claims that contradicted the deepest teachings of other faiths.  And so, we concluded, while each faith could certainly appreciate wisdom in the other, we couldn’t both be right at the deepest level.  The student maintained his position, saying that all religions are fundamentally alike.

     Ironically, the young man was being every bit as dogmatic, superior, and ideological as any traditional religion adherent can be.  He was saying, in essence, “I have the true view of religion, and you don’t.  I can see that you are alike, but you can’t.  I am spiritually enlightened, and you aren’t.”  But as I spoke to him a bit afterward I concluded that he was motivated by an underlying fear.  If he granted that any religion made unique claims, then he would have to decide whether or not those claims were true.  He did not want the responsibility of having to ponder, weigh it all, and choose.  Among young secular adults it is common to adopt this belief that all religions are roughly the same.  Dare I say this is a form of emotional immaturity?  Life is filled with hard choices, and it is childish to think you can avoid them.  It may seem to get you out of a lot of hard work, but the idea of the equivalence of religions is simply a falsehood.  Every religion, even those that appear more inclusive, makes its own unique claim.  But Jesus’ claims are particularly unnerving, because if they are true, there is no alternative but to bow the knee to him.

–Tim Keller, Encounters with Jesus: Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions, (New York: Penguin Books, 2013), 195–196.

     Christianity rises or falls on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  If this event is historically true, it makes all other religions false, because Jesus Christ claimed to be the one and only way to God the Father.  To prove this, He predicted He would come out of the grave alive three days after He was executed. And He did.

     There is overwhelming evidence for the historical truth of the resurrection (see Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell or The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, for two examples of many).  What does the resurrection mean?  It means Christ is God and since He said He is the only way to forgiveness of sins and the only way to Heaven—all other religions are false.

     Jesus asked His disciples the most important question: “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:16).  If we get it right about Jesus, we can afford to get some minor things wrong. But if we get it wrong about Jesus, it won’t matter in the end what else we get right.

——————————-

Sometimes people approach me and say, “I really struggle with this aspect of Christian teaching.  I like this part of Christian belief, but I don’t think I can accept that part.”  I usually respond:  “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?  The issue on which everything hangs is not whether or not you like his teaching but whether or not he rose from the dead.”  That is how the first hearers felt who heard reports of the resurrection.  They knew that if it was true it meant we can’t live our lives any way we want.  It also meant we don’t have to be afraid of anything, not Roman swords, not cancer, nothing.  If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything.

–Timothy Keller in The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, 2008.

********************************************

John 14:6  —  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

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

I Corinthians 15:17  —  If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

II Peter 1:16  —  For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

********************************************

Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.

–John 6:68

2210) Carried to a New Room

An experience Peter Marshall (1902-1949), the great Scottish-American preacher, related during his ministry, from A Man Called Peter, by Catherine Marshall,  pp. 230-231, 272-273:

   On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, Peter Marshall preached to the regiment of midshipmen in the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  A strange feeling which he couldn’t shake off led him to change his announced topic to an entirely different theme based on James 4:14:  “What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  In the chapel before him was the December graduating class, young men who in a few days would receive their commissions and go on active duty.  In that sermon titled Go Down Death, Peter Marshall used this illustration:

     In a home of which I know, a little boy—the only son—was ill with an incurable disease.  Month after month the mother had tenderly nursed him, read to him, and played with him, hoping to keep him from realizing the dreadful finality of the doctor’s diagnosis.  But as the weeks went on and he grew no better, the little fellow gradually began to understand that he would never be like the other boys he saw playing outside his window.  Small as he was, he began to understand the meaning of the term death, and he knew that he was going to die.

     One day his mother had been reading to him the stirring tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table:  of Lancelot and Guinevere and Elaine, the maid of Astolat, and of that last glorious battle in which so many brave knights met their death.

     As she closed the book, the boy sat silent for an instant, and then asked the question that had been weighing on his heart:  “Mother, what is it like to die?”  Quick tears sprang to her eyes and she fled to the kitchen supposedly to tend to something on the stove.  She knew it was a question with deep significance.  She knew it must be answered satisfactorily.  So she leaned for an instant against the kitchen cabinet, her knuckles pressed against the smooth surface, and breathed a hurried prayer that the Lord would tell her how to answer him.

 And the Lord did tell her.  Immediately she knew how to explain it to him.

     “Kenneth,” she said as she returned to the next room, “you remember when you were a tiny boy how you used to play so hard all day that when night came you would be too tired even to undress, and you would tumble into mother’s bed and fall asleep?  That was not your bed.  It was not where you belonged.  And you stayed there only a little while.  In the morning, much to your surprise, you would wake up and find yourself in your own bed in your own room.  You were there because someone had loved you and taken care of you.  Your father had come—with big strong arms—and carried you away.  Kenneth, death is just like that.  We just wake up some morning to find ourselves in the other room—our own room where we belong in heaven—because the Lord Jesus loved us and carried us there.”

     After Peter Marshall had finished the service at Annapolis and as he and his wife Catherine were driving back to Washington that afternoon, suddenly the program on the car radio was interrupted.  The announcer’s voice was grave:  “Ladies and Gentlemen.  Stand by for an important announcement.  This morning the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor was bombed…..”

    Within a month many of the boys to whom Peter Marshall had just preached would go down to hero’s graves in strange waters.  Soon all of them would be exposed to the risks and dangers of war, and Peter Marshall, under God’s direction, that very morning had offered them a defining metaphor about the reality of eternal life.

*****************************************

James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 

John 14:1-3  —   (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

*****************************************

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

And if I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.  Amen.

–Classic children’s bedtime prayer from the 18th century

2209) Teach Your Children Well

By Amy Henry, married, mother of six, teacher, and correspondent for World magazine.  This article, entitled “Why I Can’t Teach Your Child,” was posted October 3, 2014 at:  www.wng.org

     Four times I asked him to take out a piece of paper.  Four times I asked him to find a pencil.  Each and every time we reached a new vocabulary word, I stopped reading and told him to write it down.  By the time the history lesson was over, I was exhausted and so was he, I suspect.  Whether the directive is to get out a book, pick up a piece of trash, or sit in a particular seat, I am met with stiff resistance, if not outright refusal to cooperate.

     Ah, the life of a teacher.

     Brand-new, beautiful books about Troy and Egypt and King Arthur sit on my classroom shelves begging to be read, but at this rate I can’t get through the lesson in time for us to actually read them.  The whole class goes without field trips or art projects and sits twiddling their thumbs while I deal with Mr. Uncooperative.  Day after day after day …

     It smacks of my mother’s return to teaching after 25 years “off” to raise her own children.  After finishing a grueling master’s program, my mom got a coveted position as a fifth-grade teacher at a new charter school.  The summer before she started, she scoured garage sales and thrift stores for beanbags and books to fill her reading corner.  She put art on the walls and decorated her room with the passion of one who loves learning and can’t wait to instill this love in her students.

     Her new career lasted a whopping two years, every day a misery.  Instead of reading in the corner like she had envisioned, she spent all her time writing up disciplinary forms in triplicate, calling parents, and sending kids to a principal who would just send them right back.  After drawing a line in the sand with her worst-behaved kids, she was told by their parents that they wouldn’t allow detention, taking away the only real consequence she could deal out.  Empty, the reading corner did nothing but gather dust…

     In reading through my student’s files, I see the hopes and dreams of parents who are sending their kids to our school with grandiose expectations that we will instill a love of learning and set ablaze the fire of curiosity in their children.  But I tell you, no matter how hard I try, no matter how many resources I have, without obedience none of that can happen.  I can teach an ADHD, dyslexic, dysgraphic child with severe anxiety issues the world; but I cannot teach a doggone thing to a high-functioning, intellectually bright, whippersnapper of a kid who won’t obey.

     All that to say, dear parent, I can babysit and keep your child warm and alive until 3:15 every day, but it’s not my job to teach obedience:  It’s yours.

     For the sake of their education, teach that so I can teach them.

————————–

In a 2014 Pew Research survey of parents with at least one child under 18 living in their household, only 12% checked obedience as one of the three most important characteristics to teach their children.  Granted, there may be three things even more important than obedience, but only 62% checked obedience as ‘especially’ important (no limit on the number of characteristics that could be checked as ‘especially important’); and 38% did not consider teaching obedience important enough to check at all.

***********************************************

Deuteronomy 32:45-47a  —  When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, he said to them, “Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.  They are not just idle words for you—they are your life.”

Proverbs 5:22-23  —  The evil deeds of the wicked ensnare them; the cords of their sins hold them fast.  For lack of discipline they will die, led astray by their own great folly.

Proverbs 10:17  —  Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.

Proverbs 19:18  —  Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death.

Ephesians 6:1-3  —  Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother”— which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

I Timothy 3:4  —  He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.

Hebrews 12:11  —  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

***********************************************

PRAYER BASED ON THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT and LUTHER’S CATECHISM EXPLANATION:

O God, you command us to honor our fathers and mothers.  May we so fear and love you that we do not despise or anger our parents and others in authority, but respect, obey, love, and serve them, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

2208) Faithful Endurance

Image result for chinese cultural revolution

     Aunty Esther was a diminutive elderly Chinese medical doctor with a soft, kind voice that masks the many years of suffering through which she has passed.

     “During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976),” she says, “I was called in by my superior one day.  At that time I was in charge of eight large pediatric wards in my hospital.

     “The communists were cracking down on people who did not toe the current party line.  My superior warned me that I should deny my faith and join the communist party or I may have to face the serious consequences of job demotion and salary reduction.

     “A few days later, I was rudely awakened by four nurses who roughly pulled me from my bed and marched me to the hospital.  En route they stopped at a barbershop and shaved off half of my hair. In front of the rest of the staff, I was confronted to renounce my faith in Christ and join the communist party.

     “I responded, ‘I can’t deny Jesus. I love Jesus!’  At the mention of His name they threw me down on the ground and cursed.  Later, the communist cadre at my hospital tore the stethoscope from my neck and said, ‘You are no longer Esther; you are now The Fool.”’

     Esther continues.  For the next eleven years she lived in the basement of the hospital and obediently submitted to her new task—cleaning the floors and toilets of the hospital wards that she previously headed.  Her already meager salary of 50 dollars per month was reduced to 15 dollars; and she had to buy the cleaning materials from it.  The rest was used up on food.

     But Esther practiced the presence of Jesus in her job.  She sang as she toiled.  With a twinkle in her eyes she adds, “My hospital had the cleanest floors and cleanest toilets in all of China!”

     Hospital staff would come to her and with great envy question her source of joy in spite of her troubles.  Esther responded, “When you have Jesus in your heart, it doesn’t matter what job you do or what position you have.  It only matters that you love Him and are faithful and loyal to Him.”

     When the Cultural Revolution period ended, Aunty Esther was reinstated in her original job and given back pay for all that she had been deprived during those eleven years.  This amount enabled her to send one of her children for higher education.  She faithfully carried on her public witness for Jesus until the day she died in her late nineties.

–www.opendoorsusa.org

——————-

“Our God is so great even the persecutors serve him,” said a Chinese pastor.  He was referring to arch-persecutor of the Chinese church, Mao Tse Tung, who launched the fiercest anti-Christian campaign of the twentieth century in the 1960’s.  Called the “Cultural Revolution,” he swept away all churches, burned all Bibles, and imprisoned all the pastors.  Yet all he succeeded in doing was pushing the church deep underground, where it became embedded in the family structure and Chinese culture in a way 300 years of evangelism had failed to accomplish.  From this fire emerged the world’s largest revival – where the church grew from 1 million in 1950 to over 80 million today.  “We say,” smiled the pastor, “that thanks to Mao—who thought he was annihilating the church—we have the greatest revival.  He thought he was killing the church, but all the while he was doing pre-evangelism.  God had the last laugh.  Glory be to God!”

***************************************

Jeremiah 7:7-8b  —  Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.  They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…its leaves are always green…

II Timothy 2:10-12a  —  I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.  Here is a trustworthy saying:  If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.

I Peter 2:20b-21  —  If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Romans 15:4  —  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.

***************************************

Almighty God, Lord of the storm and of the calm, of day and night, of life and death; grant unto us so to have our hearts stayed upon your faithfulness and your love, so that whatever happens to us, however black the cloud or dark the night, with quiet faith we may trust in you and walk with you; abiding all storms and troubles of this mortal life, begging of you that they may turn to our souls’ true good.  Amen.

–George Dawson (1821-1876) English Baptist minister

2207) “I Did Care…”

Image result for altar crucifix images

     An old Catholic archbishop was giving his Good Friday sermon to a large crowd in his inner-city cathedral.  He told a story of three boys who long ago came into that same church during the confessional time.  They were laughing and joking and making all kinds of disrespectful racket.  Two of the boys then dared the other one to go into the confessional booth and make some stupid confession.  They made a bet that he would not do it.  But the boy did go in, and still chuckling, he made an outrageous confession to the priest.  He said that he had robbed several banks, beat up his parents, knifed many other tough guys in fights, and went to bed with a different woman every night.  His two friends were rolling in the aisles with laughter.  The priest, however, kept his cool and replied calmly, “My son, in the name of your Savior, Jesus Christ, all of your many sins are forgiven you.”

     The boy got up to leave and collect on his bet, but the priest called him back.  He said, “You are forgiven, but as you know, every word of forgiveness requires an act of penance.  This is what you must do.  When you leave the confessional booth, you must go to the altar and look up at the statue of Jesus on the cross, with the crown of thorns on his head, the nails in his hands and feet, the stab wound from the spear in his side, and the scars from the beatings on his back.  I want you to look into the eyes of your Lord on that cross, and I want you to say to him, ‘I know what you did for me Jesus and I’m here to tell you that I don’t give a damn.’”

     The boy stood still.  He was no longer laughing.  Now, he just wanted to get out of there.  He went to his friends and said, “There, I won the bet.  Let’s go.”  

     But the friends, still howling with laughter, said, “Oh no, you aren’t done yet.  If you want to win the bet, you have to finish your act of confession and do the act of penance.  Go in and do it.”  

     The boy did not want to go back, but he did not want to lose the bet.  So he went up to the cross, looked up at Jesus, and started to say, “I know what you did for me Jesus and I don’t give a …”  He stopped.  He could not finish the sentence.  He started again, and again stopped.  He tried one more time, and again had to quit.  Finally, he ran past his laughing friends and out of the church.  

     The old archbishop telling the story then ended his sermon by saying, “I was that young man, and that day changed my life.  I realized I could not say what the priest said I should say.  I realized that I did care what Jesus did for me, and I knew I should begin acting like I cared.  So the next day I went back to that priest and made a proper confession.  In time, I myself became a priest, and it was all because that priest in that confessional made me look at the wounds of Christ and think about how those wounds were for me.”

—————-

Pray about any areas of your life in which you need to confess the attitude of “I know what is right, and I know what you want me to do, Jesus, and I know what you did for me– but I don’t care.”

********************************************

Isaiah 53:4-6  —  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:  yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.

********************************************

TRADITIONAL CATHOLIC PRAYER BEFORE A CRUCIFIX (www.catholic.org/prayers):

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus,
while before Thy face I humbly kneel and, with burning soul,
pray and beseech Thee
to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments
of faith, hope and charity;
true contrition for my sins,
and a firm purpose of amendment.
While I contemplate,
with great love and tender pity,
Thy five most precious wounds,
pondering over them within me
and calling to mind the words which David,
Thy prophet, said of Thee, my Jesus:
“They have pierced My hands and My feet, they have numbered all My bones.”  Amen.

2206) At Peace With Death

Image result for death peace in christ images

Posted December 7, 2019 at:  http://www.opendoors/usa.org

“Open Doors colleague, Ron Boyd-MacMillan, shares the following insight from his teaching, “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”

————————————–

     There is a famous book called The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.  It is Becker’s contention that the whole of the Western world is really a gigantic playground to distract us from ever facing the fact that we will all die.  Thinking about death is all but forbidden.  Preparing for it is seen as a sign of morbidity.  We arrange for the elderly to die out of sight in hostels and hospitals.  And huge multinational companies produce products that promise to keep the effects of aging at bay.

     Inevitably, when we are too scared to face death we end up being a slave to it.  Even Christians can show the same dread of it as others.  But an encounter with those in the persecuted church can go a long way to diffusing this sense of dread.

     Over twenty years of reporting on the Persecuted Church, I have interviewed literally hundreds of Christians who thought they were going to die for their faith.  All of them—and I really do mean all of them—exhibited two amazing characteristics: they experienced unspeakable peace and joy in the midst of the pain as they began to feel death draw near; and they were as surprised as anyone that they were not afraid of death at the time.

     Take Pastor Yu Yong, kidnapped by Islamic extremists from his church outside Madiun, central Java in December 2001.  Furious that his church was full of Muslim converts, the extremists showered him with questions, trying to provoke him to attack them.  They beat him and finally held a long machete to his throat.  He assumed he was about to die.  But what was going on inside Pastor Yu, deeper than all the pain or fear?  This is how he put it. “I was amazed that throughout the ordeal I felt an incredible peace.  I was also amazed at the answers I was able to give them. That verse came true—‘when you are brought to trial, do not worry about what to say, for when the time comes, you will be given what to say’ (Matthew 10:19).  The more they tried to provoke me, the more peace I felt.”

     And so when death reaches out its icy hand even in more everyday ways—when the plane hits an air pocket, or the results of the suspected cancer scan are due—I remember the experiences of my persecuted friends and I am strengthened to think, “If they have been where I am about to go, and still testify that Jesus gives unaccountable peace, well, it is no tragedy to tread this well-worn path.  Their experiences in the face of death help to take the dread away.”

     Of course, I know all this from the Bible, where Paul says that to be with Christ is “far better.”  And I have read that wonderful passage in Acts seven when Stephen has the face of an angel when he is stoned to death.  But the truth comes with more power when a flesh-and-blood person who has faced death puts their arms around you and says, “You will have peace, and Jesus will be with you in the midst of it all.”

     Death just cannot be that bad if Jesus is that great!

******************************************

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

II Corinthians 5:1…6-10  —  For we know that if the earthly tent (body) we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house (body) in heaven, not built by human hands…  Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord.  For we live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.

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

Psalm 23:4… 6  —  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

******************************************

O my most blessed and glorious Creator, who has fed me all my life, and redeemed me from all evil; seeing it is your merciful pleasure to take me out of this frail body, and to wipe away all tears from my eyes, and all sorrows from my heart, I do with all humility and willingness consent and submit myself to your sacred will.  Into your saving and everlasting arms I commend my spirit.  I am ready, my dear Lord, and earnestly expect and long for your good pleasure.  Come quickly, and receive the soul of your servant who trusts in you.  Amen.  

–Dying prayer of Henry Vaughan

2205) “This is Good”

Image result for thumbcut off images

     A tribal king had a close friend with whom he grew up.  The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) as well as the lives of others and remarking, “This is good!”  He based it on two Scriptures: one that says that it is God’s will that we be thankful for ALL circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18); and Romans 8:28 which assures us that God can turn every situation (good or bad) into ultimate good.  The king loved his friend’s positive outlook and took him with him wherever he went.

     One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition.  As the king fired his gun at a pheasant that flew up from the long grass, the rifle backfired and blew off his right thumb.  Looking at the king’s bleeding hand, his friend remarked as usual, “This is good!”

     The king was angry and replied, “No, this is NOT good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail for his insensitivity.

     About a year later, the king was hunting all alone in an area that he should have known to stay clear of.   Cannibals captured him and took him to their village.  They tied his hands, stacked some wood, and were going to cook him in a big pot.  As they set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb on his right hand.  Being very superstitious, cannibals never eat anyone who is less than perfect.  So they released the king.  

     Walking home he kept staring at his right hand without a thumb.  “This IS good!” he said out loud.  He was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his shabby treatment of his friend.  So he went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend.

     “You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.”  And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened.  “And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long.  It was bad for me to do this.”

     “No,” his friend replied as usual, “This is good!”

     “What do you mean, ‘This is good?’  How could it be good that I put my friend in jail for over a year?”

     “Well,” replied his friend, “if I had not been here in jail, I would have been out there with you!”

*********************************************

Romans 8:28  —  We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  —  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

*********************************************

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

2204) God is Watching You Work

By Rick Warren, in his January 10, 2020 Daily Hope blog, posted at:  http://www.pastorrick.com

————————–

“Don’t just do what you have to do to get by, but work heartily, as Christ’s servants doing what God wants you to do” (Ephesians 6:6 The Message)

     If you’re a believer, no matter who your boss is at work, ultimately, you’re working for God.  Whether or not anyone else sees what you do, God sees—and he doesn’t want you to waste the time and resources of your employer.

     Maybe you hate your job.  Maybe you think you’re underpaid.  It really doesn’t matter.  The Bible says to do more than just the minimum required.  God calls you to give your best. That’s what integrity looks like.

     You may know someone who only works hard when the boss is watching.  Or you may see someone who takes company supplies home from the office, which is a form of stealing.  Or you may work with someone who takes extra long breaks every day—or consistently comes in late and leaves early.

     Would you believe God compares this kind of work ethic to vandalism?  Proverbs 18:9 says, “Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism” (The Message).  The Living Bible translates the verse this way: “A lazy person is as bad as someone who destroys things”.

     God considers it a serious sin when we don’t give a full day’s work for a full day’s pay.  Even if no one else at work gives their all, followers of Jesus should.

     When you work as if you’re working for God, he will bless your integrity.  Yes, your employer most likely will notice your commitment to the success of the company or organization, and that may lead to financial blessings.  But more importantly, you will grow spiritually as you work in obedience to God.

********************************************

If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

************************************************

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

I Corinthians 10:31  —  Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Ephesians 4:1b  —  …I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

************************************************

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives with one another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives:  So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good: and, as we seek a proper return for our labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer