2284) Bodies are in Danger, Souls Can be Okay

“It Can Be Well with Our Souls, Even with the Coronavirus Crisis” by Randy Alcorn, posted March 30, 2020 at:  http://www.epm.org

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     This classic hymn, sung in this Age of Corona by a ‘virtual cell phone choir,’ was posted a few days ago.  It is beautiful.  It demonstrates separation but the wondrous ability to transcend it.  Technology isn’t always the answer, but in this case it is truly a gift of God.  Here is “It Is Well with My Soul” from a cell phone choir:

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDIJz6zzHNU&feature=youtu.be&mc_cid=923c38f276&mc_eid=7a61505e6c  )

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     Either before or after you listen to the song—or maybe both, listen to it twice as I just did—consider the history behind the song “It Is Well with My Soul.” I wrote about it in my book If God Is Good:

     Horatio Spafford, a prosperous lawyer, real estate investor, and devout Presbyterian elder, lived comfortably in Chicago with his wife, Anna, and their children.

     The year of 1871 was a difficult one for the Spaffords.  Much of Horatio’s real estate investments disappeared in the great Chicago Fire.  Not long after, they lost their 4-year-old son to scarlet fever.  But worse still was to come.

     Knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would preach in England in 1873, Spafford’s family decided to vacation in Europe.  Last-minute business detained Horatio, so Anna and their four girls sailed on the ocean liner S.S. Ville du Havre.  En route, a British vessel rammed the ship, and it sank within minutes.  Rescuers picked up an unconscious Anna on a floating spar, but all four daughters drowned.  When Anna arrived in England, she sent a telegram to Horatio with the words, “Saved alone.”

     Horatio immediately left Chicago to bring his wife home.  On the Atlantic crossing, the captain called Horatio to his cabin to tell him that they had nearly reached the spot where his four daughters had perished.  As he passed over their watery grave, Spafford wrote a hymn of profound depth that has touched millions:  “It Is Well with My Soul.”

     He later wrote to Anna’s half-sister, “On Thursday last we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep.  But I do not think of our dear ones there.  They are safe, folded in the arms of Jesus, the dear lambs.”

     The pain was great, but God’s grace rose to the occasion.  Despite his heartbreak, Spafford could say without pretense, “It is well with my soul.”

     Only God can perform such a miracle of grace.  And that kind of miracle is available to us all.

     Knowing the story, listen to that song again, and it will be even more amazing than before.

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III John 1:2  —  Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in health; I know that it is well with your soul.

Psalm 42:11  —  Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Psalm 62:5-6  —  For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 94:19  —  When the cares of my heart are many, thy consolations cheer my soul.

Psalm 116:7  —  Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Psalm 131  — 

Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a child quieted at its mother’s breast;
    like a child that is quieted is my soul.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time forth and for evermore.

Psalm 146:1  —  Praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord, O my soul.

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“IT IS WELL”

By Horatio Spafford

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
REFRAIN:  It is well, it is well, with my soul
It is well, With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.  REFRAIN
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul.  REFRAIN

2283) Prints in the Sand

“FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND”

Original Poem Footprints Sand | footprints prayer image search ...

     This well known reading is not from the Bible, but it is certainly consistent with what the Bible says about how God carries us in our “times of trial and suffering.”  This can be seen in the following verses:

Deuteronomy 1:31  —   In the wilderness you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.

Exodus 19:4  —  (The Lord said), “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”

Isaiah 46:3-4  —  (God says), “Listen to me… you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.  Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.  I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

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This next reading is probably not as well known as the first one, but it is a humorous take-off on that other more familiar reading.  It’s message is a bit harsher, but is also consistent with what the Bible says about how God will leave us, and will allow us to go it on our own, if that is what we insist on doing.  The Bible verses following the reading make that point.

“BUTT PRINTS IN THE SAND”

But then some stranger prints appeared,
And I asked the Lord,  “What have we here?”
Those prints are large and round and neat,
“But Lord, they are too big for feet.”

“My child,” He said in somber tones,
“For miles I carried you alone.
I challenged you to walk in faith,
But you refused and made me wait.”

“You disobeyed, you would not grow,
The walk of faith, you would not know,
So I got tired, I got fed up’
And there I dropped you on your butt.

“Because in life, there comes a time,
When one must fight, and one must climb,
When one must rise and take a stand,
Or leave their butt print in the sand.”

–Author Unknown

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Luke 13:34  —  (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.

Proverbs 1:24, 25, 26b, 27b, 28  —  Since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand; since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke…  I will mock when calamity overtakes you…  when distress and trouble overwhelm you.  Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Isaiah 59:2  —  Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Romans 1:28  —  Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

2282) People Can Change

“Jesus Gave Me What Boozing and Brawling Couldn’t: My journey from the criminal underworld to the foot of the cross” by Allen Langham, author of Taming of a Villain: A Message of Hope (2019, Lion Hudson).  This article was published in Christianity Today, June 2019 issue, pages 79-80 (www.christianitytoday.com)

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     Six years ago—lost, broken, alone, and suicidal—I was the empty shell of a once-promising rugby player, shuffling around an exercise yard in a London prison.  I was a man of extreme violence who had done seven stretches behind bars.

     One morning around that time, I watched a flock of birds take off from a ledge outside my cell.  Right then, I knew God was real—and that he had reached down to rescue me from the pit of hell.

     As a child, there was violence everywhere I turned.  My mother had been widowed by her first husband, abused for 20 years by her second, and deserted by my father (whom she never married) when I was eight months old.  She and my two sisters surrounded me with love—I was the little favorite of the family.  But she was also a harsh disciplinarian and liberally wielded what we called “the Allen stick” to keep me under control.

     Throbbing with anger and resentment toward my absent father, I was constantly getting into scraps with neighborhood bullies, hoping to earn their respect.  I was also abused several times: by a family friend, by a boy across the road, and by a man I can’t say much about because I’ve blocked the worst details from my memory.

     I had some means of escape.  Often I would skip school to go fishing or run off to the woods and dress up as an Army sergeant major, shouting commands at the other kids and exerting control to hide my inner pain.  I loved sports and showed potential from an early age.  And on Sundays, I would venture out on my own to attend church.  At home I was fatherless and abused, but there I felt safe and at peace.

     One morning, alerted by the shrieks of my eldest sister, I came downstairs to find my mother dead on the sofa, the victim of a cerebral hemorrhage.  Something snapped in me that day—I was only 14—that put me on the road to destruction for the next 20 years.

     I went to three schools, getting expelled from the first two for unmanageable behavior.  By the time I left home at 16, I was a ticking time bomb—angry, bitter, and lost.  My sister ran pubs, and I started down the path of drinking, gambling, and fighting, emulating the “gangster” lifestyle.  This was my idea of what it meant to be a man.

     But I excelled at rugby, and at 17 I signed a professional contract with Sheffield Eagles.  Soon enough, I had far more money than good sense.  Craving acceptance from members of the criminal underworld I perversely thought of as “family,” I began fighting for money, selling drugs, collecting debts for dealers, and generally bullying and intimidating my way through life.  I walked into my first prison term as a lost little boy trapped inside a professional rugby player’s body.

     It didn’t take long for prison to turn me into a hardened criminal.  It was a hostile world—physically, mentally, and emotionally—where only the fittest survived.  In prison I developed a heroin addiction, which left me alienated from my firstborn daughter and her mother.

     Between sentences, I went chasing the bright lights of London but ended up sleeping on the streets of the Strand.  Without the “good fortune” of being sent back, I might have died.  Back in custody, spurred forward by a picture of my daughter on my cell wall, I resolved to rebuild my life.  During the next two years, I caught up on my schooling and got clean from heroin.  But after the next release, I soon returned to my old ways.  The vicious merry-go-round kept spinning: drinking, drugs (now cocaine), partying, violence, sex, and before long, a trip back to the slammer.

     During my stints in prison, I was always drawn to the chapel.  I considered it a place of refuge, just as church had offered a safe haven from the tumult of my childhood.  Over the years, I experimented with everything: Buddhism, Hinduism, spiritualism, counseling, course after course, medication—but nothing worked.  I was still a wreck.  Despite my burning desire to change, I couldn’t find any peace or stability.

     Eventually, after stabbing a number of fellow inmates, I landed in Belmarsh, a top-security prison in southeast London.  I hated who I had become.  With my violent outbursts and paranoid behavior, I had pushed away anyone I ever cared for—and put my family through hell.  I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually broken.  Outwardly, I sought “respect” by lashing out against anyone or anything in my way.  But on the inside, I remained a lost little boy in desperate need of love and acceptance.

     While awaiting trial in a kidnapping and hostage-taking case, I finally hit rock bottom and decided to commit suicide.  With tears streaming down my face, I dropped to my knees and made one final plea to God: “If you’re real and you hear me, put a white dove outside my prison window.  Show me you are with me!”  At the time, I had no conception of the dove being a symbol for the Holy Spirit.  I was only looking for some sign of hope and new beginnings.

     The next morning, when a flock of pigeons lifted off the nearby ledge, I saw the dove sitting there.  Something inside me jumped, and tears of joy replaced tears of despair.

     After transferring to another prison in Leeds, I began praying and studying the Bible in earnest.  Reading Joyce Meyer’s Battlefield of the Mind, I stumbled across a chapter where Meyer describes taking the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, rolling it into a ball, and laying it at Jesus’ feet.  I decided to do the same with my rage.  Before going to sleep, I closed my eyes, imagined Jesus on the cross, balled up my rage, and surrendered it to him.  When I awoke, I felt peace like never before.

     Being a Christian—and turning away from drinking, drugs, and sleeping around—hasn’t been easy.  (It’s tough having a functioning conscience!)  At first I was on fire for Christ, and my zeal would outrun my better judgment.  I would strike up conversations with complete strangers and probably put them off forever.  I would go to pubs to tell people about Jesus and—still enslaved to old habits—end up drinking to excess.  On one occasion, I found myself in bed with a woman after trying to share the gospel with her.  I needed serious refining.

     But God, in his patience, kept using this broken vessel for his purposes.  He has given me the privilege of going into prisons—at first under the supervision of more mature Christians, then increasingly on my own—and testifying to the hope and forgiveness he offers.  I have spoken to rooms full of men convicted of the most heinous crimes, including pedophiles and murderers, and seen them reduced to tears.  At a key moment when I wondered where my life was going, God helped me launch a ministry (Steps to Freedom) that reaches out to young people abandoned by society.  He let me return to my first love, sports, as a chaplain serving several teams.

     Miraculously, God has even given me my family back.  It has taken years, but one by one he has repaired broken relationships with my sisters and their families, with my three children, and with the father who deserted us so long ago.

     The refining process has been long and hard.  But bit by bit, it’s polishing me into a trophy of God’s grace.

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Jeremiah 13:23  —  Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots?  Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.

Jeremiah 31:18-19  —  …You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been disciplined.  Restore me, and I will return, because you are the Lord my God.  After I strayed, I repented; after I came to understand, I beat my breast.  I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.

Jeremiah 31:33…34b  —  “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people…  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

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Psalm 51:9-13:

Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

2281) God Can Heal, God May Heal, God Will Heal

Matt Chandler on suffering T4G 2010 Pt 3 of 3 - YouTube

By Matt Chandler (1974-  ), pastor at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas.

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     All of us are only a phone call away from our life changing forever.  We will get sick.  We will lose loved ones.  Trials will come.  And we don’t know when suffering will hit us.

     For me, it was Thanksgiving morning in 2009.  I walked into our living room at home to give my youngest, Norah, her bottle.  I burped her.  I took her back to her Johnny Jump Up.  I turned.  And then I woke up in the hospital.  I’d had a brain seizure, and I was diagnosed with a primary brain tumor, facing immediate surgery, chemo, and radiation — and an estimate of a few years to live.

     In that season, I found that my Christian friends tended to fall into one of two camps.  The first camp was all about the will of God, and praying for the will of God.  The second camp believed that if I had faith and believed that the Lord would heal me, then I would be healed.

     Those two camps often do not play too well together, but I actually believe they can help one another more than they realize.  One tells us how to pray for healing, and the other tells us how to respond when God doesn’t heal.  We need both.  We see that need played out in at least one familiar Old Testament story.

     You may well remember the characters Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from felt boards in Sunday school, but this story has direct implications for how we think about healing and how we pray for healing.

     To recap, king Nebuchadnezzar made a golden image and demanded that the people of God, who had been exiled to Babylon, worship it.  Three of God’s servants, who had been put in a place of authority in Babylon — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — refused.  When the king threatened to throw them in a fiery furnace because of their disobedience, they responded by saying (Daniel 3:17-18):

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  BUT EVEN IF NOT, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.

     In other words, our God can save us, we believe that the Lord will save us, and even if he doesn’t, we will still praise the name of the Lord.  This should be our default position, regardless of what we’re walking through, but especially when we’re walking through the valley of suffering.

   God is sovereign.  “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).  He is the Creator of all things and the Sustainer of all things, and he has the power to do whatever he wills.  Colossians 1:16–17 says of Christ, “By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  Whatever suffering we are facing, we know that God has the power to intervene, and we know he has the power to redeem and heal whatever pain and brokenness we experience.

     God is not only all-powerful; he is also personal, and he will heal all our diseases.  “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:1–3).  The question for his children is not if he will heal, but only when and how.  One way or another, he will deliver us — from suffering, from sin, from death.  God loves us and cares about us (1 Peter 5:6–7).  He bends his ear to the cries of his people.  Psalm 34:17 says, “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”  God invites us to pray to him, and tells us that he will answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7–8).

     God is good.  We can see throughout the Scriptures, as he reveals who he is and what he is about, that God is a loving Father who knows what’s best and wants what’s best for his children.  As Jesus pointed out, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).  We can trust that if God chooses not to heal us for now, he knows something we don’t know — and that one day he will end suffering and death once and for all.

     The Bible frees us up to pray boldly and courageously for healing — not to simply pray for God’s will — because we know that he can heal, that he will heal, and that ultimately his will will be done in every circumstance (Ephesians 1:11).  We’re not setting low bars for God to step over.  We cannot set a bar too high for him.  We come to him believing that he will heal, and believing that if he does not, it will be because he has a better plan and a higher aim in mind.

     The Bible calls us to pray and plead with the Lord, asking him to bring healing.  I’m going to ask, believing that Jesus Christ is going to heal me and heal the people I’m praying for, but then I’m going to open my hands, entrusting myself and others to the will of my God.  That’s the example Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give to us, and that’s how we pray in our trials:

Lord, I know you can heal. Lord, I believe you will heal. And Lord, if you don’t heal now, bring glory to your name and keep my faith in you.

2280) A Sermon on Going to Heaven (part two of two)

Matthew 22:9-10  —  (The king said to his servants), “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find.”  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

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     (…continued)  Jesus isn’t done yet.  The outrageous story continues.  In verse eight, the king says, “The banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go on out to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you can find, ‘the bad as well as the good,’ don’t even check their ID’s, just tell them all to come on in.”  This time, the king gets a response, and the wedding hall is filled with guests.

     The kingdom of heaven, says Jesus, is a place to which everyone is invited.  Everyone.  Have you made some wrong turns, lived a bad life, done much that you are ashamed of?  Jesus said, you are invited anyway.  Do you struggle with doubt, have a hard time saying your prayers, or feel like a fraud and a hypocrite?  Jesus said, you are invited anyway.  The kingdom of heaven is like a king’s banquet to which everyone is invited, good and bad.  Just come on in.  You are welcome.

     Those who first heard the parable would have known that this was outrageous.  King’s didn’t invite just anyone and everyone.  But Jesus was talking about a different Kingdom and used an earthly king only as a sermon illustration.  Everyone, says Jesus, gets invited, and that’s wonderful.

     But, says Jesus, don’t refuse the invitation.  Even then this heavenly king will be patient for a while.  But be warned.  If you wait too long, he will be enraged.  That is what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Do not be like those who pay no attention.  There will be, on the last day, a parting of the ways, a separation.  Not everybody automatically goes to heaven.  The last verse of the text makes it clear one more time, when Jesus wraps up the parable by saying, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

     Now for the most important, but also most difficult part.  That is the application of these general principles to yourself.  Who are you in the story?  Are you one of the good people, close to the king; one who gets invited first, but then doesn’t pay much attention, and in the end refuses?  Or, are you one who accepts the invitation that goes out to everyone, and then comes right on in.  The parable speaks of refusing and of accepting the invitation.  But what does that look like in day to day life?  How do you refuse God’s invitation?  How do you show you have accepted it?  And how do you know where you are at right now?

     Making this even more difficult is that odd part right at the end, about the man who was not wearing the proper wedding garment.  Even though he did accept the invitation, for some reason, the king was not happy with him.  “Friend,” the king said, “How did you get in here without wedding clothes?”  And the man was speechless.  The king had him tied up and thrown out.  What’s that all about?

     First of all, let me say this:  I do not know what that part is all about.  I can make a guess, but that is all it would be; a guess. Or I could look in this book or that book (I have lots of books), and tell you what kind of a guess this scholar or that scholar made.  But the more books I would look in, the more guesses I would find, and I don’t find such guesses all that helpful.  Some things in the Bible are easy to understand and some things are not, and parables of Jesus are not always perfectly clear.

     The purpose of the parables seems to be different from the purpose of Jesus’ clearer teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, or in Paul’s step by step theological explanations in the book of Romans.  Parables are not designed to spell things out clearly in a neat package, like “The banquet means this, and the wedding garment means that, and you are this guy in the parable, and that unbeliever over there is the one that gets thrown out, and now we can all feel good about ourselves.”

     Parables like this one are more ambiguous than that, a little wilder, and a bit harder to nail down.  They are told to get into your head, to unsettle you, to challenge your thinking, to change your perspective, and to give you something to mull over from now on.  They defy the easy explanation.  So I’m not going to try and wrap this all up in a neat little package.

     Each of you, on your own, needs to look at what is clear, and then make your own sense out of it.  And as you think about it, think not so much “What does this or that mean?” but “What is this story doing to me as I hear it?”

     Look again at the main points.  The kingdom of heaven is like a great banquet that everyone is invited to, including you.  The door is always open, the invitation is always there, for good folks and for bad folks.  Just come on in.  What does that do to you?  This is a message of hope for everyone.  It should comfort you, give you confidence for the future, bless you, and make you love God and have faith in him.  Do you want to have assurance of life after death in heaven?  There it is.  You are personally invited by the king himself.  Tell Jesus you want to be there, and be at peace.  Let the parable do that for you.

     But some folks in the story, and in life, ignore and refuse the invitation.  They disrespect the king, they put him on hold, and they don’t pay much attention.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  Jesus doesn’t spell out any specifics.  So think about it.  Might that be you?  Do you give God the attention he deserves, do you take with all seriousness his call to obedience in everything, or do you find all kinds of ways to neglect and ignore his call on your life?

     Add to that the part about the man without the wedding garment.  He accepted the invitation, but he still messed up and missed out.  How?  What did he do wrong?  It’s not clear.  What does this part of the parable do to you?  It should make you uneasy, a little less likely to take God for granted, a little more likely to keep listening to obey God’s Word, and to keep paying attention before you settle into a faith that is too comfortable and too easy.  Do you know for sure who you are in the parable? 

     Might Jesus be directing all parts of this parable to each of us?

    Is that the kind of answer you want in a sermon?  Maybe not.  But that is how these parables work. They work to wake you up, to unsettle you, and to get you thinking.  The parables are there to comfort you, AND, to keep you on your toes

     So don’t let Oprah, Joel Osteen, or anyone else explain away all the rough edges of this parable so you can “feel good about yourself.”  Jesus didn’t tell this parable so you could feel good about yourself.  He told it so you could learn about going to heaven– and that is by not ignoring Him and refusing His invitation.

     The catechism says over and over again that we should fear and love God.  Do you remember learning that?  This parable should make you do both.  Love God, of course; he has invited you to his eternal home.  Fear God, of course, there is enough in this parable to keep you from taking that love of God for granted.  So keep listening.  Don’t expect one parable to answer all your questions.  There’s a lot to this life of faith.  You aren’t going to get it all in one sermon.  No one text and no one sermon says it all.

     That is why we worship here each week, and not just every once in a while.  Keep listening.  Keep in touch.  The purpose of this text is to comfort you and to unsettle you.

     Just before the sermon we sang, “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.”  That’s a nice song about that wonderful invitation.  After the sermon we will sing, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.”  That is a nice song too, but it has in it a command, a command reminding us to not ever take that love for granted, but to keep looking to Jesus, to keep seeking, to keep God first in our life.

     This parable reminds us to do both.

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“Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling”

by Will L. Thompson  (1847-1909)

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As sung by Alan Jackson (only first and last verse; all verses are printed below):

< https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkRTfrLBii0 >

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1) Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, 
calling for you and for me; 
see, on the portals he’s waiting and watching, 
watching for you and for me. 

Refrain:
Come home, come home; 
you who are weary come home; 
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, 
calling, O sinner, come home! 

2) Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, 
pleading for you and for me? 
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, 
mercies for you and for me? [Refrain]

3) Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, 
passing from you and from me; 
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, 
coming for you and for me. [Refrain]

4) O for the wonderful love he has promised, 
promised for you and for me! 
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, 
pardon for you and for me. [Refrain]

2279) A Sermon on Going to Heaven (part one of two)

Image result for rsvp images

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Matthew 22:1-14  —  Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.  Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’  But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business.  The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged.  He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’  So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.  But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.  He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’  The man was speechless.  Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

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     If you are interested in going to heaven someday, you should pay close attention to this parable of Jesus.  Notice how it begins:  “Jesus spoke to them in parables saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Like what?  That is what you want to pay attention to, especially because the parable has to do with who gets into heaven and who doesn’t.  More than anything else in all of life, you want to be clear and correct on this.

     It is the common belief these days to just take for granted that everybody goes to heaven, no matter what you believe and no matter what you do.   After the tragedy of 9-11, Oprah Winfrey confidently declared at the Yankee Stadium memorial service that there were now 3,000 new angels in heaven.  Now how did Oprah know where all those people went, and what makes her think they become angels?  Who told her all that?  For many folks these days, it is taken for granted that everyone goes to heaven.  But is that what Jesus says here?

     Now, what I say doesn’t matter much more than what Oprah says, because all you have to do is disagree with my interpretation.  Everybody is a Bible expert these days, so who am I to tell you I’m the one that has it figured out?  So forget me.

     But you do need to listen close to what Jesus says, so I am going to stick to that.  I’ll be adding a bit here and there, as I always do in sermons.  That’s what you hired me to do, but you can still just ignore whatever I say if you want to.

     But you can’t ignore what Jesus says, because as we heard in the children’s sermon a little while ago, “Jesus is the boss.”  Not me, not you, and not even Oprah with all her money and influence.  Jesus is the boss.  Jesus is the one we need to listen to on this subject.

      And why should we listen to him and not Oprah?  Because Jesus is the only one who told us about living on somewhere else after our death, and then rose from the dead to show us that it can be done.  When Oprah or anyone else manages that, then I will pay some attention to what they have to say.  But I don’t know of anyone else who has ever done that.  Nor do I see any other evidence anywhere for such an incredible hope as life after death.  Everything else I have ever seen tells me that dead is dead.  Only in Jesus do I see anything more.  We know about heaven only because Jesus has told us about heaven, and so we should listen close to everything He says about it.

     So here is what Jesus says:  “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.  He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.”

     My wife and I put on a wedding banquet one time, so I know something about how that goes.  We didn’t have any servants to take the invitations around in person, so we just had to put them in the mail.  But we were just like that king in that we were anxious to see what people did with those invitations.  We had a little RSVP card to send back, and we were hoping to get those back by the deadline so we know how many meals to order from the caterer, and how many chairs to set up.

    It was irritating when people did not get back to us, and we didn’t know why.  What happened?  Did the invitation get lost in the mail, do people not know yet what they will be doing that day, are they just ignoring you, are they irresponsible, or what?  It is important to get all the responses back to those invitations.  Most came back, but many did not.  Lots of people were coming, but still we did not know for certain how many.

     The king in this parable had it even worse.  Every single person he invited refused to come.  So he sent out some more servants and said, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner.  My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come on now,” pleads the king, “come to the wedding banquet.”  But again, no one paid any attention, and they all just went on back to whatever they were doing.  In fact, this time, some of those who were invited took the servants and beat them up.

     What Jesus is describing is already an outrageous situation.  This is a method Jesus often used in his parables.  He tells a story that is beyond belief, and then uses it to really drive home a point.  First of all, people loved wedding banquets in those days.  It was the primary social event of their lives. Wedding feasts could last for several days, even a week, with everyone eating and drinking all the best, and the father picking up the whole tab on everything.  Who would want to miss that?  And this was the banquet for a king’s son!  No one would refuse such an honor.

     But in this shocking parable, everyone refuses.  The king then pleads a second time.  This is a very patient king, because kings were kings, and in those days kings did not plead with their subjects.  They told them what to do.  But even after the king’s pleading, the people refuse.  Such rudeness, disrespect, and lack of gratitude was beyond belief.

     Recall now how the parable started.  This is what the kingdom of heaven is like, said Jesus.  It is a tremendous, incredible, invitation; and yet, many will refuse it.  Does everyone get into the banquet, into heaven?  No, says the parable, even after the king gives a second chance, begs, and pleads, many will flat out refuse.  The kingdom of heaven, said Jesus, is like a most wonderful gift that is freely offered, but then is ignored and refused by many.

    Then, “the king was enraged and sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city.”  I will allow you to put your own interpretation on that.  (continued…)

2278) Christians, Plagues, and Pandemics

Saint Sebastian pleads with Jesus for the life of a gravedigger afflicted by plague during the Plague of Justinian. (Josse Lieferinxe, c. 1497–1499)
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By John Stonestreet and Shane Morris, March 24, 2020, at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

     We aren’t the first Christians to face times of plague and pestilence.  History tells of several devastating pandemics that swept Europe in the early days of Christianity and, during all of them, Christ-followers distinguished themselves by their counter-cultural responses.

     During the second-century’s Plague of Galen, the disease’s namesake (who was also Rome’s foremost physician) fled to his country estate.  Helpless before the onslaught of the unknown contagion, he and many others ran, hoping to save their own lives.

     During the third-century Plague of Cyprian, Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote that the Romans “pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt…”

     Christians, however, behaved differently.  As sociologist Rodney Stark famously put it, they “ran into the plague.”

     Cyprian of Carthage, the bishop who gave his name to the third-century outbreak, described the response from his fellow Christians this way: “…we have begun gladly to seek martyrdom while we are learning not to fear death.”

     “Heedless of the danger,” he wrote, followers of Christ “took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy…”

     Though their deaths likely seemed pointless to many Romans, Stark argues in the book “The Triumph of Christianity,” that Christians may very well have decreased the death toll by administering basic nursing care to those strong enough to recover.  Their work, in many ways, was analogous to modern healthcare.

     In the most recent episode of the BreakPoint Podcast (see below), historian Dr. Glenn Sunshine describes how Christians repeated this kind of response not only in these two plagues, but in all the pandemics that followed.

     Whether in Justinian’s Plague of the sixth century or the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, many believers sought to imitate Christ, who, as Isaiah wrote, “took on our infirmities and carried our sorrow.”  Sunshine even notes that during the Black Plague, clergy died at a higher rate than the general population, because they were unwilling to forsake parishioners who had fallen sick.

     It’s clear how our Christian forbears dealt with the plagues of their cultural moment.  What’s not as clear is how Christians today should “run into the plague” in our cultural moment, one with a dramatically increased knowledge of viruses and pandemics and how to handle them, which includes knowing how the spread of coronavirus can be dramatically slowed by “social distancing.”

     The sort of care Christians personally offered in the past is now widely available and, by minimizing the risk to particularly vulnerable members of our churches and community, we can ensure the system that provides such care is not overwhelmed.  The love of neighbor in this cultural moment, given the incredible knowledge and resources we now have—which are gifts of God—will look a bit different.

     In the podcast, Dr. Sunshine pointed to a letter by Martin Luther that helps us reconcile this dilemma of loving neighbor while being wise.  Addressing the question of “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” the reformer argues that “All of us have the responsibility of warding off this poison to the best of our ability because God has gifted humans with their bodies [and] so too he has gifted the medicines of the earth.”  Our duties to our neighbors, congregations, or (if we’re in healthcare positions) our patients are best fulfilled in ways consistent with expert medical advice.

     In other words, our principles need not change in order to love and serve our neighbor, though our behavior will.  Dr. Sunshine offered a few suggestions we might into practice today:  picking up groceries for shut-in neighbors, ensuring they have vital medications, and using technology to encourage and comfort Christians in ways that in times past could only happen in person.

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Prayer for a Pandemic

May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
Remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close
Remember those who have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
Remember those that have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market
Remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
Remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
let us choose love.
During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
Let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
Amen.

–Cameron Bellm

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Prayer for Compassion

Sacred One, our peace and our strength, we pray for our nation and the world as we face new uncertainties around coronavirus.  Protect the most vulnerable among us, especially all who are currently sick or in isolation.  Grant wisdom, patience, and clarity to health care workers, especially as their caring for others puts them at great risk.  Guide us as we consider how best to prepare and respond in our families, congregations, workplaces, and communities.  Give us courage to face these days not with fear but with compassion, concern, and acts of service, trusting that you abide with us always.  Amen

–Matthew Linn, SJ, Markoe House Jesuits, Minneapolis, MN 55407

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Learn More…

Christians in Time of Plague

Shane Morris & Dr. Glenn Sunshine | BreakPoint | March 22, 2020

The Triumph of Christianity

Rodney Stark | Harperone | 2012

How Early Christians Saved Lives and Spread the Gospel During Roman Plagues

Tyler O’Neil | PJ Media | March 17, 2020

7 Lessons from Singapore’s Churches for When the Coronavirus Reaches Yours

Edric Sng | Christianity Today | March 11, 2020

What Martin Luther Teaches Us About Coronavirus

Emmy Yang | Christianity Today | January 30, 2020

2277) Prayers for These Pandemic Days

Prayers COVID-19.png

 

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“Prayers for COVID-19” by Jen Pollock Michel, March 16, 2020, at:  http://www.Jenpollockmichel.com .  Michel is the author of Teach Us to WantKeeping Place, and Surprised by Paradox.  She lives with her husband and their five children in Toronto.

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     In recent days, COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic and countries have taken urgent measures to stem the spread of infection.  The crisis is urgent, and we feel powerless.  But perhaps feeling small is the best reminder to pray.  Prayer is how we actively practice believing, simply and confidently, that God has the whole world in his hands.  It’s where we “let petitions and praises shape our worries into prayers, letting God know our concerns” (Philippians 4:6–7, The Message).  Prayer is never the last resort of God’s people.  It is our first point of action.

     I have needed to remind myself that this is the time for us not to panic but to pray.  Maybe you have needed the reminder, too.

     With that in mind, I’ve created a prayer list for this pandemic.  It is perhaps something you can print out and pray with your spouse or children or roommates in the weeks ahead.  It can be an active way to resist worry—or as The Message translates it, shape your worries into prayers.

      Each one addresses the specific needs of a specific community.  This list isn’t comprehensive, but it’s a place to start.

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We believe there is a God who bends his ear to listen, and so we pray:

1. For the sick and infected: God, heal and help.  Sustain bodies and spirits.  Contain the spread of infection.

2. For our vulnerable populations:  God, protect our elderly and those suffering from chronic disease.  Provide for the poor, especially the uninsured.

3. For the young and the strong:  God, give them the necessary caution to keep them from unwittingly spreading this disease.  Inspire them to help.

4. For our local, state, and federal governments:  God, help our elected officials as they allocate the necessary resources for combating this pandemic.  May more tests be made readily available.

5. For our scientific community, leading the charge to understand the disease and communicate its gravity:  God, give them knowledge, wisdom, and a persuasive voice.

6. For the media, committed to providing up-to-date information:  God, help them to communicate with appropriate seriousness without causing panic.

7. For consumers of media, looking to be well-informed:  God, help us find the most helpful local information to equip us to be good neighbors.  Keep us from anxiety and panic, and enable us to implement the recommended strategies, even at a cost to ourselves.

8. For those with mental health challenges who feel isolated, anxious, and helpless:  God, provide them every necessary support.

9. For the homeless, unable to practice the protocols of social distancing in the shelter system:  Protect them from disease, and provide isolation shelters in every city.

10. For international travelers facing challenges with returning to their home countries:  God, help them return home safely and quickly.

11. For Christian missionaries throughout the world, especially in areas with high rates of infection:  God, provide them with words of hope, and equip them to love and serve those around them.

12. For workers in a variety of industries facing layoffs and financial hardship because of this pandemic:  God, keep them from panic, and inspire your church with your generosity and love.

13. For families with young children at home for the foreseeable future:  God, help mothers and fathers to partner together creatively for the care and flourishing of their children.  For single mothers and fathers, grow their networks of support.

14. For parents who cannot stay home from work but must find care for their children:  God, present them with creative solutions.

15. For those in need of regular therapies and treatments that must now be postponed:  God, help them to stay patient and positive.

16. For business leaders making difficult decisions that affect the lives of their employees:  God, give these women and men wisdom, and help them to lead sacrificially.

17. For pastors and church leaders faced with the challenges of social distancing:  God, help them to creatively imagine how to pastor their congregants and love their cities well.

18. For college and university students, whose courses of study are changing, whose placements are cancelled, whose graduation is uncertain:  God, show them that while life is uncertain, their trust is in you.

19. For Christians in every neighborhood, community, and city:  May your Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, to give, to love, to serve, and to proclaim the gospel, that the name of Jesus Christ might be glorified around the world.

20. For front-line health care workers, we thank you for their vocational call to serve us.  We also pray:

  • God, keep them safe and healthy.   Keep their families safe and healthy.
  • God, help them to be knowledgeable about the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, as well as the changing protocols.
  • God, help them to stay clear-minded in the midst of the surrounding panic.
  • God, deliver them from anxiety for their own loved ones (aging parents, children, spouses, roommates).
  • God, give them compassion for every patient in their care.
  • God, provide for them financially, especially if they fall ill and are unable to work.
  • God, help Christians in health care to have strong faith, so that that others would ask about the reason for their hope.  Give them opportunities to proclaim the gospel.

God, we trust that you are good and do good.  Teach us to be your faithful people in this time of global crisis.  Help us to follow in the footsteps of our faithful shepherd, Jesus, who laid down his life for the sake of love.  Glorify his name as you equip us with everything needed for doing your will.   Amen.

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John 16:33  —  (Jesus said), “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:4-7  —  Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

2276) On Living in a Coronavirus Age

“How C.S. Lewis Would Tell Us to Handle Coronavirus” by Annie Holmquist, editor of Intellectual Takeout, posted March 16, 2020, at:

  http://www.intellectualtakeout.org

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     Last week I saw a C.S. Lewis quote shared on social media.  I’d seen this quote from his essay “On Living in an Atomic Age” before, but shrugged it off as a nice thought that didn’t really apply any more.

     Never mind.  Swap out “atomic bomb” for “coronavirus” and the relevance of the quote becomes quite clear:

‘How are we to live in [a coronavirus] age?’  I am tempted to reply: ‘why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.

 It’s true.  We tend to look at coronavirus and freak out because, as was recently mentioned, this new coronavirus is an “unknown.”  Yes, this coronavirus is a “novel” disease, but as Lewis implies, there really is nothing new under the sun.  Other ages have faced serious diseases and dangers.  We just thought our brilliant scientific minds would exempt our postmodern era from such calamities.

     Secretly, we all probably think we’re exempt from death as well.  But think again, says Lewis. “Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before [this coronavirus] was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways.”

     So how do we deal with the current crisis?  “The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together,” Lewis explains.  Sage advice.  Take a deep breath and don’t panic.  But after that, what?

If we are all going to be destroyed by [this coronavirus], let that [virus] when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about [this coronavirus]. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Granted, not all of these things perfectly apply to this new coronavirus.  It is wise to follow the CDC’s advice and practice some form of social distancing, but that social distancing doesn’t have to end our lives!

     In fact, I’ve begun to see a silver lining in the dark cloud of this coronavirus.  For starters, it’s striking at the heart of one of the largest complaints about postmodern society: busyness.  With activities canceled, schools closing, and Americans working from home, we suddenly have a lot more time to be quiet and rest.  Perhaps in that quiet and rest we’ll have more time to think, and to re-evaluate our lives.  Are we prioritizing important things that will last?  Are we espousing the right ideas, or are we holding on to some that don’t make much sense when we actually take time to quietly ponder them?

     Another problem this coronavirus is alleviating is the dispersion of the family.  Life before coronavirus tended to drive families in 10 different directions at once, leaving little time to spend just getting to know and support one another.  Over the weekend, however, I began to see more families out walking around the neighborhood, trying to get out, but forced to spend time together.  Will this time allow us to reconnect and build lasting relationships with those closest to us?

     Benefits aside, how are we going to respond in this time of crisis?  Lewis suggests that some may just panic, while others may decide to live it up and enjoy life while they can.

     But there’s another way.  Lewis reminds us that we are a part of nature “not as prisoners but as colonists.”  As such, we are called not to worship nature as our mother and seek the survival of the fittest, but instead to practice “the law of love and temperance even when they seem to be suicidal.”  He concludes by saying:

We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honorable and merciful means.

The sacrifice is not so great as it seems.  Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs.  Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved.  Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best.  Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.

   In a nutshell?  Don’t seek to just survive this coronavirus.  Live a life that makes a difference for others and looks beyond this world.

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II Corinthians 4:16-18  —  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

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Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who cares for us:  Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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(Seen on Facebook):  “I guess God got so mad about all of our fighting down here that He sent us all to our rooms.”

2275) Trust and Hope

TRUST

Corrie ten Boom  (1892-1983)

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The members of the ten Boom family were Dutch Christians who helped many Jews hide from the Nazis.  When their home was raided after an informant tipped off the Nazis of their activities, the entire family was imprisoned.  Corrie and her sister were sent to a concentration camp.  Corrie was miraculously released from prison just days after her sister had died there.  Corrie was the only one of her entire family to survive.  Yet, God brought incredible beauty and healing through her difficult experiences, and in her international ministry Corrie spoke often about trusting God, especially in darkness.  Here are several examples of her simple, yet profound wisdom. 

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Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.

Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.

Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – caring two days at once.  It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time.

If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed.  If you look within, you’ll be depressed.  If you look at God, you’ll be at rest.

Hold everything in your hands lightly.  Otherwise, it hurts when God pries your fingers open.

You can never learn that Christ is all you need, until Christ is all you have.

Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?

Don’t bother to give God instructions; just report for duty.

When you are covered by His wings, it can get pretty dark.

One time when I was a little girl and very worried about something, my father came to comfort me.  “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”  I sniffed a few times, considering this.  “Why, just before we get on the train,” I said.  My father replied, “Exactly.   And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too.  Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie.  When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need– just in time.”

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HOPE

Image result for hope in the lord images

     What are you hoping for?  A better paying job?  A future mate?  Perfect children?  A winning lottery ticket?

     We use the term “hope” to refer to pipe dreams, wishful thinking, fantasies, and the like, but very few of us actually understand what true “hope” is.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines hope as “a wish or desire supported by some confidence of its fulfillment.”  Hope from a Biblical perspective is exactly that.  It is a belief grounded in faith and based upon the promises of a God who never lies and who always keeps His word.

     Romans 5:3-5 says, “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint us because God has poured out His love in our hearts.”  Hope enables people to keep going long after they think they can because it holds promise of better days and brighter horizons.  Ecclesiastes 9:4 states, “Anyone who is among the living has hope–even a live dog is better off than a dead lion.”  In other words, if you are still breathing, there is hope for you.  No matter what you have done or what you are going through God promises hope is available to you because of three unchangeable truths from the Bible.

     First, God is a God of second chances, forgiveness, and redemption.  It is never too late to get right with the Lord because He is always ready to transform whatever you give Him into something usable.  Psalm 103:10, 12 says, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve . . . as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”

     Secondly, God has the power to make all things new–even you.  Lamentations 3:22-23,25 says, “His mercies never fail . . .They are new every morning . . . The Lord is good to those whose hope is in Him.”  God offers you a new beginning every day.  Take Him up on His offer.

     Finally, God never withholds what is good from you, so you can have hope that He will provide what you need and sustain you through trials.  Psalm 34:10 says, “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”  God always has your best interest in mind so you can trust that He will bring about what He has promised and that His plan will ultimately be what is best for your life.

     The devil wants to keep you in bondage to fear and dread which lead to discouragement, despair, and depression.  But the “God of hope wants to fill you with all joy and peace as you trust Him, so that you may overflow with hope” (Romans 15:13).  When the Psalmist was distraught, he cried out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? . . . Put your hope in God.”(Psalm 42:5).  He knew the remedy for discouragement – look expectantly to the Lord for deliverance and trust that He is fully capable of bringing it to pass.  May the hope of our Lord be with you today and remind you that in all things you are more than a conqueror through Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:37).

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Mark 5:36b  —  (Jesus said), “Do not fear, only believe.”

Psalm 37:34  —   Hope in the Lord and keep his way.  He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.

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Father in heaven, grant us the courage and faith to meet the days ahead in the comfort  of a holy and certain hope, and in the joyful expectation of eternal life with those who trust You and who follow You as Lord of our lives on earth.  Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, yet to believe and to trust that You are our Savior, especially in the most threatening chapters of our lives.  AMEN.

Almighty God, gracious Father in Christ Jesus, smile upon us with your forgiving love, and start us anew on that road of life which brings peace to the heart and hope for tomorrow.  Take us into your hands, and lead and guide us every hour of the day, for the sake of Jesus our Savior.  Amen.