2092) Giving Thanks for Everyday Miracles

By Philip Yancey posted August 19, 2019 on his blog at:  http://www.philipyancey.com:

This month IVP has released a new, revised version of my writings with Dr. Paul Brand, Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image.  Gratitude was the one quality that most impressed me about Paul Brand.  For him, the universe was God’s own work of art, and the human body God’s masterpiece.  He kept making notes on scattered computer files, calling them “A Litany of Thanksgiving.”  Dr. Brand never finished his litanies, but here are a few of his final musings on the human body he knew so well.  They sum up the spirit of a man who accepted the world as a marvelous gift, to which the proper response is gratitude.

Heart

I thank you, Lord, for my heart.

Moment by moment and day after day my heart has pumped blood to every limb and organ of my body, supplying the nutrients that give life and energy.  It has needed no maintenance or spare parts, no special fuel or lubrication.  It has surged with power when I needed help for strong exertion, and has quietly sustained me during sleep.

Grant me, O God, the grace of self-control.  I must not eat so much that I accumulate unnecessary fat, increasing the work required of my heart.  Help me avoid the seduction of rich foods that narrow my arteries.  Neither let me neglect to maintain my strength, by lazily relying on cars and machines when I could as readily use my legs and arms.

Save me, Lord, from ambition that gives high place to wealth and power and prestige, in the process adding stress to my waking hours and robbing me of restful sleep at night.  Control me with your Spirit who teaches me to forgive when anger builds up, to seek forgiveness when I’m oppressed by guilt, and who grows in me the fruit of love and peace.  Then shall my heart beat with the rhythm of contentment, and my whole body will know harmony and quiet joy.

When in the fullness of time the beat of my heart must falter and fail, give me this grace, dear Lord: that my response shall not be petulance that it does not last forever, but gratitude that it has served me long and well.

Sight

I thank you, Lord, for the gift of sight.

Not content that I should see light and shade, you have blessed me with the ecstasy of color, with millions of cells at the back of my eye, each calibrated to its own wavelength of color.  You designed living lenses, crystal-clear, flexible, and guided by tiny muscles that allow instant and precise focusing.  I praise you for tears that cleanse, and for eyelids poised to blink down protection in a split-second reflex.

Lord God, I marvel that, though light never enters my brain, thousands of the finest nerves convey images of reality into my mind, which stores them away for future retrieval.  I carry around a memory bank of friends and children and grandchildren; I close my eyes and my mind re-creates the images those nerves once ushered in.

I know many people who can no longer see.  If I live beyond the life span of the cells in me that sense the light, or if cataracts cloud the shining globe that gives me sight, I too shall live in shadows and depend on the eyes of those who see.  Help me, dear Lord, to use these days of sight in a way that honors the gift of light.  Help me to gaze at each sunset as if it were my last, to look upon scenes and friends with an artist’s eye, compiling a memory bank of beauty and love.  If someday I lose your gift of sight, these same images may return and beautify my inner life when all outside falls dark.

And while I see, may my guiding hand be quick to help the one who falters because his world is dark, to share with others the benefits of the gift of sight.

Hearing

I thank you, Lord, for the sense of hearing.

Deep in the dense bone of the base of my skull, you have placed rows of tiny hairs that bend to the movement of the fluid that bathes them.  Too fragile to be exposed to the hurly-burly of the outside world, they feel vibrations filtered through canals and mediated by tiny guardian instruments of bone.

Music and voices come to me without effort, awakening without my conscious thought memories of sounds and of speech.  I hear an echo of a concert from long ago, or recollect a person long forgotten whose face suddenly springs to mind, roused by a tone of voice or a lilt of laughter that calls up a remembrance.  The design that makes such wonder come to life lies beyond the fathoming of science, but God forbid that I should revel in the ecstasy of music and the joy of sound without giving thanks to you, my Lord.

A capacity to hear sufficient to warn me of danger and protect my life is all I might have asked, but I have joy far beyond that need.  For the sound of rushing water, singing birds, and the quiet whisper of a friend, I thank you now.  Grant me the wisdom to guard this gift well and to be content with sound enough to hear and yet not to blast my eardrums and shatter the finest hairs with sound amplified beyond nature.  Teach me to love the silence of open spaces, the distant cry of the loon, and the soft sounds of falling night that lull me to sleep, knowing that my hearing never sleeps but remains alert to awaken me to danger or to the chorus of the dawning day.

You have given, too, an extra gift beyond that of my sense of hearing: the ability to listen.  My mind can shut out noise and talk, and even calls for help, that I do not want to hear.  Grant, oh Lord, that I may tune my hearing mind to detect that human voice that needs a listening ear.

To listen is my gift to give.  To a soul who has lost hope, whose way ahead is dark, whose sense of worth has fallen and is too weak to rise, I have a way to bring back hope.  I can let them know that someone cares.  The simple statement of their fear may be all they need, because now it has been shared, and they are not alone.  Help me, Lord God, to listen to your lonely child and so express my thanks to you for ears to hear.

― Dr. Paul Brand

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Psalm 139:13-14  —  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

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2091) Be Not Afraid

    I once heard of a church called the “Community Church of Joy.”  Churches used to be named after saints, like St. John’s or St. Paul’s; or, after our Lord, like Christ Lutheran, or Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.  But it’s a relatively recent development to name a church after an emotion.  There is nothing bad about the word joy, and nothing wrong with being joyful.  One would hope that there would be a certain amount of joy in being a Christian.  And we all love that old Christmas carol ‘Joy to the World.’  And,  joy is a good Biblical word, appearing in one form or another 63 times in the pages of the Bible.

     But I don’t think I would want to join a church called the Community Church of Joy.  That would be a tough name to live up to.  I don’t know anything about the people in that town where the Community Church of Joy is located, but in all of the towns I’ve lived in, the people were not always joyful, and I know that I’m not always joyful.  And I don’t know how it goes in your church, but in all the congregations I have ever been in, some people could even get a little crabby once in a while, and I get crabby sometimes, too.  Emotions come and go, changing back and forth, for all of us; so naming a church after just one emotional state seems to me to be a little dangerous.  I have heard that in marketing it is best to “under-promise and over-deliver.”  Advertising yourself as a community church of JOY might be promising a little more than any church can deliver on a regular basis.

    Not only that, but if you look through the Bible you will find that the emotion of joy, though mentioned 63 times, is not the predominant emotion.  Actually, people in the Bible are far more often described as fearful than as joyful.  Whereas the words joy or joyful or joyous appear 63 times, the words fear or fearful or afraid appear over 500 times.  And in many of those times that people are experiencing the emotion of fear, it is because GOD, or an angel of God, has appeared to them.  Good old God, our friend and heavenly Father, our shepherd, guide and protector; God, or his angels, are always scaring the daylights out of someone.  That is what happens almost every time God appears to anyone in the Bible.

     Think about that.  Church is the place where we gather each week to worship God and come into his presence.  God is always with us, of course, but there is something special about the weekly service when we gather before him to hear his Word and offer our prayers.  And in the Bible, whenever people find themselves in the presence of God, the very first thing they feel is fear.  So really, if you were going to name a church after an emotion, it would be more accurate to name it the Community Church of Fear (though from a marketing standpoint that would probably not be a very good name for a church either).

     Consider just two examples of such fear, from two of the most important Bible stories of them all.  The first is from the story of the birth of Jesus in Luke two where it says: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”  The glory of the Lord shines all around them, and they are afraid.  How afraid are they?  They were ‘sore’ afraid, says the King James Version– so afraid that it hurt.

     The second story is the Easter morning resurrection of Christ.  The women went to the tomb to prepare the crucified body of Jesus for a proper burial.  But instead of a corpse, they found an angel of God announcing that their friend and Master Jesus was not dead but was risen from the dead and alive and would soon be meeting them.  So are they then filled with joy?  No.  The Gospels tell us they are afraid, filled with fear, bewildered, and trembling.

     But there is always more to the story.  The God whose very appearing elicits such fear, quickly speaks to calm that fear.  To the shepherds who are ‘sore afraid,’ the first words of the angel is “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of a great joy.”  The words of the angels to the women at the empty tomb are, “Be not afraid.  Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is risen.”

     In neither of these stories are the people told to be afraid.  Fear was a logical response in those situations, and fear is a reasonable response to our own situation as we live in this uncertain world.  Whether or not God or his angels are appearing to you, there is much to be afraid of.  The doctor comes in after your physical and says, “There’s a problem and we need to take some tests; I am concerned about something we saw on your X-ray.”  What do you feel?  You feel fear, and that fear comes from an unexpected, unwanted disruption in your routine, in your way of seeing things.  You are used to living day after day.  That has been your routine.  You are used to seeing things from the perspective of life.  But now all of a sudden, there is a chance that the routine may be broken, and that there may not be any life; and you are afraid.  Fear is a reasonable response to many situations, and that fear can be a good thing if it moves you to put your faith in the One who can help you.

     Little children have to be taught to be afraid of going out into the street.  Parents tell their small children in the firmest possible language, “The street is a dangerous place.  Do not even think about crossing it unless I am with you and holding your hand.  The street and the cars in it are very dangerous.”  Fear of going out into the street is a good kind of fear for a small child to have.  You have to worry about a child who has no fear of anything.  Far better is it when the child knows enough to fear what needs to be feared, and knows enough at those times to trust in the care and leading of someone bigger than himself.

     “Do not be afraid,” Jesus would say to his disciples, oftentimes adding, “For I will be with you.”  A child crossing the street will be all right if holding on to the hand of someone big enough and wise enough to know what to do in traffic.  And we too will be all right, no matter what we must face, even if it is crossing from over from this life to the next.  We will be all right, if we hold on to and trust in the one who can handle even death.

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Isaiah 41:10  —  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Luke 12:32  —  (Jesus said), “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Psalm 46:1-2  —  God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.

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Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me.

–Psalm 23:4

2090) Catacombs

 

By Stephen Nichols at:

http://5minutesinchurchhistory.com/

     Under the city of Rome lies a vast system of catacombs.  The ancient Romans built these catacombs because they feared death and didn’t want to think about it.  They wanted to push death out onto the margins, out of sight, deep beneath the city.

     These catacombs played an interesting role in the history of Christianity.  In the first few centuries after Christ, Christianity was at odds with the empire and Christians were marginalized, ostracized, and persecuted.  Despite the opposition they faced, they found that they could worship freely in the catacombs.  The Romans wouldn’t go down there, but would send slaves to dig out the catacombs and bury their dead.  So, the Christians were relatively free to worship there.  They even sometimes built seats into the walls of these catacombs and also left behind paintings on the walls.

     Another testimony to the practice of worshiping in the catacombs is the wonderful early Christian hymn called “O Gladsome Light”:

O gladsome light, O grace
Of God the Father’s face,
The eternal splendor wearing;
Celestial, holy, blest,
Our Savior Jesus Christ,
Joyful in thine appearing.

     This early Christian hymn goes on to say that “the day falls quiet and we see the evening light.”  Can you see it in your mind?  The Christians are gathering; they have a light in the catacombs; and they gather around the light to worship together and to sing their hymns of praise.

     After Christianity was legalized, catacombs became not only a place where Christians could meet; they also became the place were Christians would bury their own dead.  We can learn about the lives of early Christians from the epitaphs that were left at a number of these catacombs.  One of them simply says, “Here lies Quintilian, a man of God, a firm believer in the Trinity, who rejected the allurements of the world.”

     Another epitaph belongs to someone named Domitilla.  It says, “Who believed in Jesus Christ, together with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  Many of these early catacomb epitaphs reference the Christian belief in the Trinity.  It shows how important that doctrine was to the early church.

     Another of these epitaphs reads, “Here I rest, free from all anxiety, what I awaited has happened; when the coming of Christ occurs I shall rise in peace.”  This is a wonderful testimony to resting in Christ.

     One of these epitaphs addresses the person directly.  Her name was Aproniana, and she was only five years and five months old when she died.  Her epitaph says, “Aproniana you believed in God, you will live in Christ.”  This is a beautiful testimony to the hope of our salvation and the eternal life that we have in Christ.

     Another of these epitaphs reads, “Now that I have received divine grace I shall be welcomed in peace.”  This particular text is preceded by the early Christian symbol, the fish.  Another epitaph simply says, “This person was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

     These epitaphs provide a beautiful witness to the lives and beliefs of early Christians.

Catacomb epitaph

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Isaiah 26:19  —  But your dead will live, Lordtheir bodies will rise— let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy— your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.

Daniel 12:2, 13  —  Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt…  As for you, go your way till the end.  You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.

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

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PRAYER FOR DEPARTED LOVED ONES:

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

–William Penn  (1644-1718)

2089) The Greatest Hymn of Thanksgiving Ever Written

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A recently discovered mass grave of soldiers from the Battle of Lutzen in the Thirty Years War

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   Many people have asked me if I think we are living in the end times.  After all, they say, the Bible talks about famine and war and earthquakes, and we certainly have all of that these days.  Sometimes they add, “There is always so much bad news– I don’t think it can get much worse.”

     Whenever I am asked that, I think about Martin Rinkhart, the writer of the hymn Now Thank We All Our God.  Martin Rinkhart was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenburg, Germany from 1617 to 1649.  During thirty of those thirty-two years the Thirty Years War was raging all over central Europe, with Germany receiving the worst of it.  This war has been called one of the most brutal and devastating wars in all history.  Before the war, Germany had a population of 16 million.  After the war, the population was 6 million.  Ten million of 16 million Germans died in those 30 years.  If they did not die as soldiers in battle, they were as civilians hacked to death by invading armies, or, they died in famines caused by war’s the ongoing disruption of farming, or, they died by the disease that spread among fleeing refugees crowded into the towns.  Eilenburg, where Martin Rinkhart was the pastor, was a small city, but it had a wall around it, so many people fled there for safety from the armies.  Too many people and very little food led to ongoing hunger and starvation.  People would be seen in the streets fighting over a dead cat or crow.  Overcrowding led to disease, and then to plagues.  A high percentage of people died, only to be replaced by more refugees streaming in; and then many of them died.  One of the town’s pastors fled, two other pastors died, so Rinkhart was the only pastor left in Eilenburg.  At times, he was doing 50-60 funerals a day– 5,000 in all before the war ended, including that of his own wife.  Twice, he saved the city from even worse destruction by risking his life to go out and negotiate with the threatening army outside the city walls.  Finally the war ended, and one year later an exhausted Martin Rinkhart died at the age of 63.

      In the midst of that war, around 1636, Martin Rinkhart wrote what has been called “the greatest hymn of thanksgiving ever written.”  It must have seemed like the end of the world was at hand, but Rinkhart still wanted to teach his children to express their gratitude to God for his blessings.  He wrote a poem for them to learn and recite together, and years later the poem was put to music.  “Now thank we all our God,” he wrote in the midst of unspeakable misery, “with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”  And then, “O may this bounteous God, through all our life be near us; and keep us in his grace, and guide us when perplexed; and free us from all ills, in this world and the next.”  Only with his eye on the eternal promises of God could he have written such lines in the midst of the suffering and danger that went on and on for thirty long years.  It is a realistic hymn.  It speaks of the ills, and, of being perplexed by it all; but still, the unmistakable, dominant theme is that of thanks and praise and abiding trust.  There have been few times and places that have endured such intense misery for such a long period of time as Eilenburg, Germany during the Thirty Years War.  Yet, it was out of this misery that this great hymn was written.  

     Yes, the Lord might return and and the world might end today; but it won’t be because we are in the worst of times.  I am glad I am living in the United States in the 21st century instead of German in the 17th century.  Certainly, we today,  in comfort and amidst so many blessings, should also find plenty of reason to thank our God with our whole heart.

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Martin Rinkhart  (1586-1649)

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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.

Habakkuk 3:16-18  —  I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.  Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

Psalm 136:1  —  O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

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NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD

By Martin Rinkhart  (1586-1649)

Listen at:

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

2088) Still Wanted

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     Best selling author and pastor Rick Warren was once invited to speak an entire population of a large prison.  He had two hours to speak, but it was out in the prison yard.  There was no stage, and Warren had to just stand on the ground like everyone else.  But Warren did have a microphone, and with that mic he could be heard by everyone.  There were about 5,000 men in the prison yard, and most were paying no attention.  

     Warren pulled out a $50 bill, held it high, and to the few who were gathered around him said, “How many of you would like this $50 bill?”  Everyone heard that, and 5,000 hands went up.  Now, he had their attention.  Then he tore the bill in half, crumpled it in his hands, and held it up again, asking, “How many of you would still like this $50 bill?”  Again, 5,000 hands went up.  Next, he spat on the $50 bill, threw it on the ground, and stomped it into the dirt.  He then picked it up, held it high in the air again, and said, “How many of you would like it now?”  Once more, the hands all went up.

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     Then Warren said, “Now, for many of you, this is what people have done to you.  You’ve been mistreated.  You’ve been abused.  You’ve been misused.  You were told you wouldn’t amount to anything.  And you’ve done a lot of dumb things, too.  You have sinned.  You have done crimes, and you are paying for them.  You’ve been beaten.  You’ve been torn.  You’ve been in the dirt and you are dirty.  But you have not lost one cent of your value to God, and God still wants to have you.”

     That day, 79 guys gave their lives to Christ, and they were baptized right there in the prison yard that day.  In time, the church in that prison grew to over 500 men.

     Even if you aren’t in prison, you can probably relate to Warren’s little meditation on the $50 bill.  We have all sinned and been sinned against.  And yet, God still loves us and still wants us to turn to him in faith and trust.  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…”

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We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.

 –Rick Warren

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Psalm 119:25  —  I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word.

Psalm 34:18  —  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 51:1…10-12…17  —  Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions…

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me….  

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

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Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.

—Psalm 130:1-5

2087) No Lying

Manilal Gandhi  (1892-1956)

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From Let Me Tell You a Story, by Tony Campolo © 2000 pages 146-147

        (Mahatma Gandhi’s son Manilal continued his father’s work toward achieving civil rights for groups that were discriminated against, and the family moved to South Africa to join the battle against apartheid.  This story is about Manilal, told by his son Arun.)

     Gandhi’s grandson Arun Ghandi (1934- ) told me that one day his father (Manilal) asked him to drive him to a meeting in Johannesburg.  “My father asked me to drop off the automobile at the repair garage and then be back at five o’clock to pick him up,” he said.

     Arun went on to say, “I dropped my father off for his meeting and got the car to the garage by one.  Since it was a long time until five o’clock, I figured I could go to the movies, which I did.  That day there was a double feature being shown, and when I got out I checked my watch and realized that it was past five o’clock!

     “I rushed to the corner where my father had said he would be waiting for me, and when I saw him there, standing in the rain, I tried to think of excuses I could make.  I rushed up to him and said, ‘Father, you must forgive me.  It is taking them longer to repair the automobile than I thought it would take, but if you wait here I will go and get the car.  It should be ready by now.’

     “My father bowed his head and looked downward.  He stood for a long moment and then he said, ‘When you were not here at our meeting time I called the garage to see why you were late.  They told me that the automobile was ready at three o’clock.  Now I have to give some thought as to how I have failed, so as to have a son who would lie to his own father.  I will have to think about this, so I am going to walk home and use the time during my walk to meditate on this question.’”

     Arun Gandhi said, “I followed my elderly father home that rainy, misty night, watching him stagger along the muddy road.  I rode behind him with the headlights of the car flashing ahead of his steps.  And as I watched him stumbling toward home, I beat on the steering wheel and said over and over, ‘I will never lie again!  I will never lie again! I will never lie again!’”

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Arun Ghandhi and his grandfather

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I Corinthians 13:6 — Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Proverbs 12:22 — The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

Proverbs 30:8a — Keep falsehood and lies far from me… 

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A FATHER’S PRAYER ON THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT BY MARTIN LUTHER:
Dear God, you have given me spouse, child, house, and land.  I receive these as your gifts, and will care for them for your sake.  I will do what I can to make all go well.  If not all my plans succeed, I will learn to be patient and let whatever cannot be changed take its course.  When things do go well, I will give you the glory and say, ‘O Lord, this is not by my work or effort, but by your gift and providence.’  Be the head of my family.  I will be obedient to you in all humility.   Amen.

2086) Real Hope

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By Lee Strobel, posted September 14, 2019 in Investigating the Faith with Lee Strobel, a weekly devotional at:  http://www.biblegateway.com

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I Peter 1:3  —  In his great mercy [God] has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

     “Where is the hope?” asked Christian statesman Chuck Colson.  “I meet thousands who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  The hope that each of us has is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things we do as a nation.”

     Then where is the hope?  In spite of how frequently people banter about hope, this is still a challenging question.  Colson pointed out that hope is not to be found in government, laws, or a renewed sense of national pride.  And hope doesn’t come from mere wishful thinking, blind optimism, or hopeful dreams.  And, as it turns out, hope is an elusive commodity in most of the popular worldviews and religious options as well.

     Thankfully, we have a good answer that is grounded not in wishful thinking, but in a historical event that gives us a solid reason to trust God for better things ahead, both in this life and the next.  Specifically, I’m talking about the resurrection of Jesus.

     If you read and reflect on the Gospel accounts about Jesus, you’ll soon realize that he was a walking dispenser of hope!  He lived a life that instilled in his followers the hope that they could find greater meaning and purpose in their lives.  He spread tangible hope as he healed the broken hearts and diseased bodies of countless people.  He embodied hope for our earthly lives, and he promised a hope-filled existence in heaven for eternity to those who would trust and follow him.

     And when Jesus was challenged to explain the reasons for such hope, he staked it all on one imminent event: “Destroy this temple,” he said, “and I will raise it again in three days.”  John explained in his gospel that the “temple [Jesus] had spoken of was his body” (John 2:19, 21).  He was predicting not only his death, but also and especially his resurrection from the dead three days later.

     So for Jesus’ followers, both then and now, the Easter miracle is the make-or-break event.  Either Jesus would rise from the dead, proving he was who he said he was and could do what he promised to do, or he would not, and he would be exposed as a fraud who was spreading false hope.

     See why the resurrection is so important?  That’s why it’s the lynchpin of Christianity.  Said the apostle Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins . . . . If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19).

     Thankfully, Paul didn’t stop there! He went on to declare, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:20–22, emphasis mine).

     The resurrection of Jesus is a powerful and miraculous event on which we can confidently pin our hopes.

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Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  (John 6:68)

2085) No Daddy?

     Hooper-ben-by-bain.jpg

Ben Hooper  (1870-1957)

Governor of Tennessee, 1911-1915

———————

     Fred Craddock tells of meeting a man one day in a restaurant.

     “You a preacher?” the man asked.

     Somewhat embarrassed, Fred said, “Yes.”

     The man pulled a chair up to Fred’s table.  “Preacher, I’ll tell you a story.  There was once a little boy who grew up sad.  Life was tough because my mama had me but she had never been married.  Do you know how a small Tennessee town treats people like that?  Do you know the words they use to name kids that don’t have no father?

     “Well, we never went to church.  Nobody asked us.  But for some reason or other, we went to church one night when they was having a revival.  They had a big, tall preacher, visiting to do the revival and he was all dressed in black.  He had a thunderous voice that shook the little church.

     “We sat toward the back, Mama and me.  Well, that preacher got to preaching about what I don’t know, stalking up and down the aisle of that little church preaching. It was something.

     “After the service, we were slipping out the back door when I felt that big preacher’s hand on my shoulder.  I was scared.  He looked way down at me, looked me in the eye and says, ‘Boy, who’s your Daddy?’

     “I didn’t have no Daddy.  That’s what I told him in trembling voice, ‘I ain’t got no Daddy.’

     “’Oh yes you do,’ boomed that big preacher, ‘you’re a child of the Kingdom, you have been bought with a price, you are a child of the King!’

     “I was never the same after that…  Preacher, for God’s sake, preach that.”

    The man pulled his chair away from the table.  He extended his hand and introduced himself.  Craddock said the name rang a bell.  He was Ben Hooper, the legendary former governor of the state of Tennessee.     –Quoted by William Willimon in Pulpit Resource

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     To be a confident and secure person you need to know only two things– where you came from and where you are going.  The Bible tells us that we are from God, chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and we are going back to God, to the Father’s home, where Jesus is preparing a place for us (John 14:1-3).

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II Corinthians 5:15-19a — … (Jesus) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.

Ephesians 1:3-6 — Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.  For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

I Peter 2:9-10 — …You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

John 14:1-3 — (Jesus said), “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  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.

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O God, the Father of mercies, grant to us always to hold fast to the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry to you ‘Father,’ and we are ‘your children,’ through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  –Roman Breviary

2084) Your Life (part two of two)

    (…continued)  And then, somewhere between age 50 and 60, I turned a corner.  At some point, I stopped growing up– upward and onward, that is.  I seemed to level off, and then, began a downward ascent.  I still had the position and the authority, but not the energy, and no longer the drive.  I had risen about as high as I could go, or wanted to go, in my career– and I started getting tired.  Tired of getting more and more, yes, I had enough; and tired of clawing my way to the top, yes; but also physically tired.  I began to doze off at meetings, I could not work as many hours, and my tennis game was going downhill fast.

     What’s worse, I had to start taking orders again; now from kids, that is to say from doctors that were the age of my kids.  “You have to change your diet, Rev. Willimon, you can’t eat as many sweets anymore, and you better get more fiber in your diet, and you’ll have to start taking these pills for your heart…  What?…  I don’t care if you don’t like to take pills, take them anyway.  And we’re going to keep an eye on that knee– we might have to replace it.”  So this is where I am at now, at the twilight of my working career, and moving into the ‘downhill and doctor years.’

     I am a minister, so I’ve been with enough elderly people to know how the last years of my story will go.  For many years, all that I could call ‘mine’ was increasing.  Now it will be rapidly decreasing.  One by one, everything I worked for will be taken away from me.  My career will be taken away, and that’s okay; as I said, I’m tired.  Then, if I’m lucky, I’ll have some good retirement years, but sometimes that gets taken away.  My house will get to be too much to take care of, my travel plans will become more of a hassle then its worth, I’ll have to get rid of all my stuff, and then, worst of all, I’ll have to get rid of my car.  One by one, if I live long enough, everything will be taken away from me, and it will be like I was when I was a child, without much I can call my own anymore.  Not only that, but there will be somebody pushing me here and pushing me there, telling me when to eat, and when I should have a bowel movement; waking me up, putting me to bed, bathing me, even changing my diaper.  

John 21:18  —  When you were younger you would fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you, and take you where you do no wish to go.

     Gradually, everything I accumulated will be relinquished, including my dignity.  And each letting go is just a practice run for the final relinquishment of breath itself.  To simply lie on a bed and breathe will be all I be able manage, and then a great fatigue will overwhelm me.  Once again, I will be pushed and pulled; but pushed and pulled to what?  Is this to be like birth, another going out into something else, unknown to be sure, but something else?  Or, will it just be the end?

Job 14:14a  —  If a man die, shall he live again?

John 14:19b  —  (Jesus said), “Because I live, you also will live.”

   If Jesus rose from the dead, as we believe he did, this final letting go is not the end but a new beginning.  It will be a new birth into a new life, through another canal and another time of darkness; and then light, and another opening of the eyes into something entirely new and different and infinitely better.  What is seen as a departure here, becomes a homecoming in heaven, with new hands to welcome me.  

  John 14:2-3  —  (Jesus said), “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.”

      Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:17).  This verse takes on new meaning after looking at our story told in this way.  We might well dread all that we must give up as we near the end of our earthly stories, but if we believe what Jesus tells us, becoming again like a helpless little child is just part of the process.  Martin Luther once said, “As little as children in the womb know about their birth, so little do we know about life everlasting.”  At the beginning of our stories, warm and comfortable in the womb, we had no way of knowing what wonderful things were ahead for us after being born.  In the same way, we can’t begin to imagine the wonder awaiting us after death, that new birth into eternal life. 

I Corinthians 15:56-57  —  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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LORD, TAKE MY HAND AND LEAD ME by Julie von Hausmann  (1826-1901)

Lord, take my hand and lead me
upon life’s way;
direct, protect, and feed me
from day to day.
Without your grace and favor
I go astray,
so take my hand, O Saviour,
and lead the way.

God, when the tempest rages,
I need not fear;
for you, the Rock of Ages,
are always near.
Close by your side abiding,
I fear no foe,
for when your hand is guiding,
in peace I go.

God, when the shadows lengthen
and night has come,
I know that you will strengthen
my steps toward home,
and nothing can impede me,
O blessed Friend!
So, take my hand and lead me
unto the end.

2083) Your Life (part one of two)

Based on a sermon by Methodist pastor and bishop William Willimon  (1946- ), in which he tells his (and our) story.

  There was a time when I was not.  I look through old family photo albums, and I see whole generations of people who came and went without me.  All kinds of people, blood relatives of mine, were born, lived, died, and were buried without any knowledge of me.  There was a time– a very long time— when I was not here, or anywhere.  There was no me.

     Then the sperm cell met the egg cell, and an embryo was formed.  Cells divided rapidly, over and over again, and before long, something that sort of resembled a human was taking shape.  Gradually, through various chemical and biological processes, I was becoming.  When did I begin to be aware that I was ‘something,’ when did I become aware of me, aware of myself?  It seems clear that the fetus in the womb, can before very long, feel and react to pain.  Therefore, I could no doubt feel the pleasure and coziness of that watery, warm, and comfortable, though very dark, home; even though I was a still a long way from full consciousness.  This is what I think that it must have been like for me.  But I remember none of this.  By this time, my parents were announcing to the world that I was coming, but still, there was no ‘me’ showing up on the family photos.

Psalm 139:13  —  (Lord), you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

     Gradually, my comfortable home seemed to be getting smaller, and I began to feel cramped.  Then one day, all of a sudden, things began to move.  Something was pushing on me, pushing more and more; and then, something was pulling on me.  No one had asked me about any of this, and given the choice, I probably would have said “No, I don’t want to go anywhere, I am comfortable where I am.”  But I had no free will in the matter.

     Finally, I was going through a canal; and then, a shock.  There was a big temperature change, a big slap, and light– light which was all new to me.  I didn’t like any part of it, and so I cried.  That was new too, I didn’t know I could do that, but before long I found out that crying could be very useful.

     In fact, crying was about all I could choose to do.  Everything else was done for me, whether of not I wanted it to be done.  Cold hands picked me up and put me here and put me there, hands put food in my mouth and then took it away, and hands dressed and undressed me.  I would even be put me into a warm tub, which felt good, even familiar, like the good old days; but then, I would always be taken me out of the tub, which did not feel good.  But again, I had no choice.

    I had no choices, but there were lots of orders as time went on.  ‘Roll over, sit up, smile, stop crying, eat your food, don’t touch, pull up, stand up, take a step;’ there was no end to it.  I was given a name, and then somewhere along the line, I figured out that when I heard ‘William’ that meant me.  I had become a ‘me,’ and I was beginning to be aware of myself and how I fit in.  Somebody had named me, claimed me, and was there for me.   They were nice to do all that, but I began to notice that they were running the whole show.  They did not ask me about my opinion or wishes on anything.

     And then, I learned a couple new words.  By this time saying ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy,’ but then I learned to say ‘no’ and ‘mine.’  That was a big step.  Now, I began to assert myself, make my wishes known, and, establish my territory.  I could tell that others did not always liked the new ‘me’ I had discovered, but that didn’t matter.  I was in the very first steps of a process that would last a very long time, the process of taking control.

     I was still always being told what to do.  ‘Eat now, sit down, don’t put food in your hair, take a bath, stop begging, put your toys away, play nice;’ and then later, ‘go to school, learn this alphabet, clean up your room, go outside and play, come in from outside, take a bath;’ and then still later, ‘learn the multiplication tables, read your assignment, get better grades, think about what you want to do for a job,’ and so on.  I was still getting pushed, but I was beginning to take control.

     I had learned the word ‘mine,’ and I was beginning stake my claims.  It was my room, and I had my toys, and it was, even, my mommy and daddy.  And I learned that I could resist the control others tried to exert.  I would come to say “No” more and more often, realizing that sometimes it even worked and I could win.  I was getting bigger and I was getting stronger, and I was finding my place in the world.  It was, at first, a very small place, to be sure.  A room, and a bed, and a few toys.  But before long, much was added.  My teams, my ability to get good grades, my wit, my popularity in school, my car, and pretty soon, my plans.  Then, when my plans started to work out, it was my degrees, my career, my positions, my authority, and my prestige.  It was my wife, my own family, my big house, my cabin, and all my many achievements.  There was so very much I could call mine; so very much I could control.  Nobody was telling me what to do very much anymore.  People had to listen to me.  I was now a force to be reckoned with.  (continued…)