2146) “You’re Not Home Yet”

President Theodore Roosevelt addressing crowd from the back of a train in 1903

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     After serving as a missionary in Africa for many years, Henry C. Morrison (1857-1942) became sick and had to return to America.  He happened to travel on the same ship as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from a hunting expedition in Africa where he had shot a number of wild hogs.

     On the dock at New York thousands cheered.  Whom would you say they cheered?  Of course they cheered the killer of hogs, who was also president of the United States.  No one was interested in the man who had saved souls.  

     Then Morrison and Roosevelt traveled in the same train.  On the train station platform, there again were thousands cheering Roosevelt, and no one cheering Morrison.

     An evangelist is human.  Resentment seized Henry Morrison and he turned to God in anger, “I have come back home after all this time and service to the church and there is no one, not even one person here to welcome me home.”

     Then a still small voice came to Morrison and said, “But Henry, you’re not home yet.”

     Miserable are Christians who hope for recognition in this world for doing what is right.  Let us wait for our full reward in heaven.

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I Corinthians 4:1-5  —  Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.  But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court.  I do not even judge myself.  I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted.  It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.  Then each one will receive commendation from God.

Hebrews 11:13  —  All these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.

Revelation 14:12  —  This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.

James 1:12  —  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Matthew 25:21  —  His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant…  Come and share your master’s happiness.”

II Timothy 4:8  —  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day— and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

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O Lord, grant us always, whatever the world may say, to content ourselves with what thou wilt say, and to care only for thine approval, which will outweigh all words.

–General Charles George Gordon, British Army  (1833-1885)

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Keep us, Lord, so awake in the duties of our calling that we may sleep in thy peace and wake in thy glory.

–John Donne,  English poet and pastor  (1572-1631)

2145) Volunteers Needed

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When There Are No More Volunteers: How the Church Can Love God by Loving Others; by John Stonestreet and Brooke Boriak, posted November 12, 2019 at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

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     According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteer firefighters across the country has been steadily in decline, with a drop of over 132,000 volunteers in just the last four years.  Many volunteer fire departments, especially in rural communities, are struggling to meet the demands of their districts.

     Even more alarming, the most drastic demographic decline of volunteers is young people.  In fact, over 50 percent of current volunteers across the country are over the age of 40.  The widespread decrease in volunteering among young people threatens EMS services, pregnancy resource centers, shelters, and non-profits —from the Red Cross to retirement homes.

     In other words, a live and pressing question we face as Americans is this: Will younger citizens be prepared, not to mention willing, to step in and maintain so many of the things we take for granted as Americans who rely on volunteers? 

     Several federal, state, and local government entities have seen the problem and are experimenting with programs that will incentivize young people to volunteer—from high school and college credit, to scholarships, to tax rebates.  Pennsylvania has even proposed a program to forgive up to $16,000 in student loans for those who volunteer for four years as a first-responder.

     While these sound like good ideas, and we should applaud innovative efforts, government solutions don’t always work out as advertised, and we can’t fix what are ultimately cultural and spiritual problems through political means.

     Culturally speaking, ours is a far more mobile society than previous generations, but volunteerism and community engagement are rooted in a sense of ownership for a community.  Simply put, it’s hard to foster ownership of a time and place among those always on the move.

     Culturally and spiritually speaking, we are all susceptible in this world to the hyper-individualism that marks our age.  All of us, but especially young people, are drawn today toward either the pursuit of social media celebrity-status, or personal happiness as our definition of “the good life.”

     What we get instead, as we’ve said before on BreakPoint, is increasing anxiety, loneliness, and depression, especially among young people.  The “Joker” film is just the latest to picture what can happen to those who lose all social ties and abandon any sense of social responsibility.

Not only is the decline of the volunteer ethic physically dangerous to the health of citizens in communities with no EMS providers to answer a call, it’s dangerous to the health of our young people if they don’t hear that they’re needed and that their life matters to their local community—wherever that is.  That’s because volunteering protects the health of those providing care, as well as those being cared for.

     Here, of course, is where the church comes in—or should come in.  We can create a sense of community and belonging, instilling civic virtue, helping people experience the truth that “no man is an island unto himself,” and that our faith, though personal, is certainly not private.

     Think about it. God has revealed Himself as a community—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Relationships aren’t merely something God does.  It’s Who He is.  Made in His image, we too are made for community.  In other words, there’s simply no loving God without loving our neighbor.

     So, here we have this place where a cultural need and a theological truth intersect.  How might the church respond?  What opportunities can we create, or can we join, that will draw young people into the life of the church for the good of the world?

     And who knows, that young person we place at a soup kitchen today might be answering our 9-1-1 call tomorrow.

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I Peter 4:10  —  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.

Titus 3:8  —   I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Galatians 6:2…10a  —  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ…  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people…

Acts 20:35  —  (Paul Said), “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”

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You are never tired, O Lord, of doing us good; let us never be weary of doing you service.  But as you have pleasure in the well-being of your servants, let us take pleasure in the service of our Lord, and abound in your work and in your love and praise evermore.  Amen.   –John Wesley

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2144) KKK Conversion

I Was a Violent Klansman Who Deserved to Die

Thomas A. Tarrants  (1946- )

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By Thomas Tarrants from back page “Testimony” in the September 2019 issue of “Christianity Today.”  Thomas Tarrants is president emeritus of the C.S. Lewis Institute.  He is the author of Consumed by Hate, Redeemed by Love: How a Violent Klansman Became a Champion of Racial Reconciliation (Thomas Nelson).

“I Was a Violent Klansman Who Deserved to Die.  Yet at the height of my segregationist fervor, God showed me mercy.”

     I came of age in the early 1960s, when America was entering a period of political, social, and cultural upheaval.  Mobile, Alabama, where I was raised, had been segregated since its founding in 1702.  In 1963, reacting to the federally mandated desegregation of Alabama’s public schools, Gov. George Wallace uttered his infamous pledge of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”  Many white Alabamians, including me, were fearful and angry.  White society was in turmoil from top to bottom, and the sense of grievance was strong, adding fuel to a racist, populist wave across the South.

     My high school was among the first to be desegregated.  Like most people around me, I identified with Gov. Wallace’s courage in standing up to those who were threatening our way of life.  On a more personal level, I was angry with my father, alienated from him, and somewhat emotionally troubled.  All these factors made me a good candidate for radicalization.

     I read some white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-Communist literature that was circulating within my high school.  Then I met the people who were advocating these ideas.  They contended that black people were inferior to whites and that desegregation, by enabling intermarriage, would weaken the white race.  The civil rights movement, they said, was part of a Communist plot, and the US government had been infiltrated by Communist agents.  Christianity and the Constitution were being undermined, and a secret Jewish conspiracy was behind it all.

     All these warnings made me anxious about America’s survival, and my fears soon turned into anger—and eventually hatred—toward those I perceived as America’s enemies.  Their successes made me want to stand up and fight for “God and country,” as those around me were urging.  The more I immersed myself in this thinking, the more it felt like a holy cause—something that offered a sense of purpose and belonging.  I grew increasingly distant from my family and others who might have pulled me back from the brink.

     In my view, preserving America justified using any means necessary.  So it was only a short step to getting involved with Mississippi’s dreaded White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the most violent right-wing terrorist organization in the United States at the time.  Although various prosecutions had greatly weakened the Mississippi organization, it still had enough strength to attract me.

     Little did I know that my downward spiral into extremist ideology, conspiracy theories, and racial and ethnic hatred would culminate in violence and death.  But it did.  Late one sweltering summer night, as my accomplice and I attempted to plant a bomb at the home of a Jewish businessman in Meridian, Mississippi, we were ambushed in a police stakeout.  My partner, a young female school teacher, was killed at the scene.  Four blasts of shotgun fire at close range left me critically wounded.  Doctors told me it would be a miracle if I lived another 45 minutes.

     Yet God spared my life—to the astonishment of the doctors and the dismay of the police.  If anyone deserved to die, it was certainly me.

Beginning to See

     I wish I could say I repented of my sins and came to a genuine faith in Jesus after God showed me mercy, but I didn’t.  In fact, I remained firmly committed to the ideology and conspiracy thinking that gripped my mind.  At the end of a two-day trial, I was convicted of attempted bombing and sentenced to 30 years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary, one of the worst prisons in America at the time.

     About six months after arriving in prison, I escaped with two other inmates, intending to return to my terrorist activities.  But a couple of days later, we were apprehended after a blazing gun-battle with the authorities, during which one of the other inmates was killed.  Had this man not relieved me from standing watch about half an hour early that day, I would have been the one killed.  God had shown me mercy once more.

     Back in prison, I was confined to a six-by-nine-foot cell in the maximum security unit.  Five more years were slapped onto my sentence.  Apart from twice-weekly showers, I was utterly alone in that cell.  To keep from going crazy, I read continuously.  Initially, I read more racist and anti-Semitic material that reinforced my beliefs, but eventually I felt drawn to a disinterested pursuit of truth, wherever that might lead.

     This began with classical philosophy and eventually led to the New Testament, specifically the Gospels.  I didn’t turn to the Bible because I wanted a better relationship with God.  I had attended church and Sunday school more or less regularly until my early teens, at which time I made a profession of faith and was baptized.  I believed I was saved and would go to heaven when I died.  Of course, the truth was just the opposite.  I had only given intellectual assent to the gospel and lacked true repentance.

     But as I read the Gospels in my prison cell, my eyes were opened in a way that went beyond simply understanding the words on the page.  As the true meaning of God’s Word became clearer, so did its relevance to my life.  I had been blind to spiritual reality all my life and was now beginning to see.

     As this process unfolded, my sins came to mind, one after another.  Conviction grew, and with it tears of repentance.  I needed God’s forgiveness.  And I knew it came only through trusting Jesus, who had given his life to pay for my sins.  One night I knelt on the concrete floor of my cell and prayed a simple prayer, confessing my sins and asking Jesus to forgive me, take over my life, and do whatever he wanted to with it.

     The next morning, I awoke with a deep hunger for Scripture and a desire to pray and to live for God.  As I read the Bible daily, a whole new world opened up to me, and I couldn’t get enough!  Early on, God delivered me from hate, and I began to grow in love for others.  Friendships developed with black inmates and others who were very different from me, including the FBI agent who had orchestrated my initial capture as well as the Jewish lawyer who helped him.

     But part of this awakening was not such welcome news.  Morally, my life was a mess—and the more I read the Bible, the more I saw it.  Some of those changes happened quickly and without too much difficulty; others took more time and struggle.  Like all believers, I remain a work in progress, as God continues to work on my sins, flaws, and follies.

No Pit So Deep

     After serving eight years in prison, an extraordinary—some would say miraculous—turn of events resulted in a parole grant to attend university.  That set in motion a series of developments which, over the next 40 years, led me first into campus ministry, then pastoral ministry in a racially mixed church (including speaking and writing on racial reconciliation), and finally to a long ministry of teaching, discipling, spiritual mentoring, and writing at the C.S. Lewis Institute.

     As I look back over the nearly 50 years since God saved me, I can only thank and praise him that he didn’t give me what I deserved.  But because he is full of grace and mercy, he gave me exactly what I needed.  He “is patient with [us], not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).

     I marvel at his continuing patience in my life.  Truly, with God there is no sin too great to forgive, no bondage too hard to break, and no pit so deep that his love isn’t deeper still.

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I Timothy 1:15-16  —  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

II Peter 3:9  —  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness.  Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–Ancient Jesus prayer

2143) The Greatest Gift of All (part two of two)

Before his conversion to Christianity, Lee Strobel had been a journalist for fourteen years.  He was also an atheist.  Here is the story of how Strobel got started on his spiritual journey to faith in Jesus.  This article (second of two parts) is adapted from his book The Case for Christmas.  Strobel has written several books explaining and defending the truths of Christianity.  His website is:   http://www.leestrobel.com

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     (…continued)  I was pondering this as I drove back toward Tribune Tower.  Suddenly, though, my thoughts were interrupted by the crackle of the car’s two-way radio.  It was my boss, sending me out on another assignment.  Jarred back to reality, I let the emotions I felt in the Delgado apartment dissipate.  And that, I figured at the time, was probably a good thing.

     As I would caution myself whenever the Delgados would come to mind from time to time over the ensuing years, I’m not the sort of person who’s driven by feelings.  As a journalist, I was far more interested in facts, evidence, data and concrete reality.  Virgins don’t get pregnant; there is no God who became a baby; and Christmas is little more than an annual orgy of consumption driven by the greed of corporate America.  Or so I thought.

     As a youngster, I listened with rapt fascination to the annual Bible story about Christmas.  But as I matured, skepticism set in.  I concluded that not only is Santa Claus merely a feel-good fable, but that the entire Christmas tale was itself built on a flimsy foundation of wishful thinking.

     Sure, believing in Jesus could provide solace to sincere but simple folks like the Delgados; yes, it could spark feelings of hope and faith for people who prefer fantasy over reality.  But as a law-trained newspaperman, I dealt in the currency of facts; and I was convinced the facts supported my atheism rather than Christianity.

     All of that changed several years later, however, when I took a cue from one of the most famous Bible passages about Christmas.  The story describes how an angel announced to a ragtag group of shepherds that “a Savior who is Messiah and Master” had been born in David’s town.  Was this a hoax?  A hallucination?  Or could it actually be the pivotal event of human history– the incarnation of the Living God?

     The shepherds were determined to get to the bottom of the matter.  Like first-century investigative reporters being dispatched to the scene of an earth-shattering story, they declared:  “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can, and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”  They left, running, to personally check out the evidence for themselves. 

     Essentially, that’s what I did for a living as a Tribune reporter:  investigate claims to see if they’re true, separate rumors from reality, and determine facts from fiction.  So prompted by my agnostic wife’s conversion to Christianity, and still intrigued by memories of the Delgados, I decided to get to the bottom of what I now consider to be the most crucial issue of history:  who was in the manger on that first Christmas morning?

 Can we really trust the biographies of Jesus to tell us the true story of his birth, life, teachings, miracles, death, and ultimate resurrection from the dead?  Did the Christmas child ultimately embody the attributes of God?  And did the baby in Bethlehem miraculously match the prophetic “fingerprint” of the long-awaited Messiah?

     I ended up spending nearly two years investigating the identity of the Christmas child; you can read what I discovered in my book The Case for Christmas.  At the conclusion, I found the evidence to be clear and compelling.

     Yes, Christmas is a holiday overlaid with all sorts of fanciful beliefs, from flying reindeer to Santa Claus sliding down chimneys.  But I became convinced that if you drill to its core, Christmas is based on a historical reality– the Incarnation:  God becoming man, spirit taking on flesh, the infinite entering the finite, the eternal becoming time-bound.  It’s a mystery backed up by facts that I now believed were simply too strong to ignore.

     I had come to the point where I was ready for the Christmas gift that Perfecta Delgado had told me about years earlier:  the Christ child, whose love and grace is offered freely to everyone who receives him in repentance and faith.  Even someone like me.

     So I talked with God in a heartfelt and unedited prayer, admitting and turning from my wrongdoing, and receiving his offer of forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus.  I told him that with his help I wanted to follow him and his ways from here on out.

     As I have endeavored to follow Jesus’ teachings and open myself to his transforming power, my priorities, values, character, worldview, attitudes, and relationships have been changing– for the better.  It has been a humbling affirmation of 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”

      And now, what about you?  Perhaps, like the first-century shepherds, your next step should be to further investigate the evidence for yourself.  If any of my books can be helpful, great.  But I hope you’ll promise yourself at the outset that when the facts are in, you’ll reach your own verdict in the case for Christmas.

     Or maybe you’re more like the magi.  Through a series of circumstances, you’ve maneuvered your way through the hoopla, glitter, and distractions of the holiday season, and now you’ve finally come into the presence of the baby who was born to change your life and rewrite your eternal destination.

     Go ahead, talk to him.  Offer your worship and your life. And let him give you what Perfecta Delgado called the greatest gift of all: Himself.

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Luke 2:15  —  When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Luke 2:16-17  —  So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.

Luke 2:19  —  Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

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Simeon took Jesus up in his arms, and blessed God, and said:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.

–Luke 2:28-30

The Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622, Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656)

2142) The Greatest Gift of All (part one of two)

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Before his conversion to Christianity, Lee Strobel (1952- ) had been a journalist for fourteen years.  He was also an atheist.  Here is the story of how Strobel got started on his spiritual journey to faith in Jesus.  This article (in two parts) is adapted from his book The Case for Christmas.  Strobel has written several books explaining and defending the truths of Christianity.  His website is:   http://www.leestrobel.com

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    The Chicago Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet on the day before Christmas.  As I sat at my desk, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago’s poorest people.

     The Delgados– sixty-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny– had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment on the West Side.  As I walked in, I couldn’t believe how empty it was.  There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls; only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice.  They were virtually devoid of possessions.

     In fact, eleven-year-old Lydia and thirteen-year-old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin sweater between them.  When they walked the half-mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance and then hand it to her shivering sister, who would wear it the rest of the way.

     But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus.  She was convinced he had not abandoned them.  I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.  Although I was an atheist at the time, she had my complete attention.

     I wrote an article about the Delgados, and then I quickly moved on to other  assignments.  But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with this irony:  here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith; and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.

     I walked over to the city desk to sign out a car.  I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing.

     When Jenny opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts:  roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves.  On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.

     But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting:  Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their new-found wealth.  When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English:  “Our neighbors are still in need.  We cannot have plenty while they have nothing.  This is what Jesus would want us to do.”

     That blew me away!  If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything.  I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me.

     “This is wonderful; this is very good,” she said, gesturing toward the largess.  “We did nothing to deserve this.  It is a gift from God.  But,” she added, “It is not his greatest gift.  No, we celebrate that tomorrow.  That is Jesus.”

     To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything; more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security.  And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus– because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters.

     They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I only knew the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material.  And something made me long for what they had.  Or, more accurately, for the One they knew.  (continued…)

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Isaiah 9:6  —  For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given… and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

2 Corinthians 9:15  —  Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

James 1:17a  —  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…

I Timothy 6:6  —  Godliness with contentment is great gain.

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O Lord, we beseech Thee, hear our prayers, and lighten the darkness of our hearts,

by the gracious gift of Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Gregorian Sacramentary

2141) Harriet

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“HOLLYWOOD’S HARRIET: A Real Heroine and a Powerful God” by John Stonestreet with Maria Baer, posted November 8, 2019, at:  http://www.breakpoint.org

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     “Sometimes it stings, like a slap in the face.”  That’s how Araminta Tubman – known best as Harriet – describes hearing the voice of God in the new Focus Features’ movie “Harriet.”  The film follows Tubman, the Underground Railroad’s most famous conductor, who, after escaping to freedom herself, returns again and again, in order to bring other slaves to freedom.  This is the latest of the sweeping trend filling theaters with biographies of interesting and important historical figures.  Unlike many of the other biopics on offer, this heroine is famous not for pop-star talent or mass appeal, but because of what she did for so many others.

     Nor did she succeed by merely “overcoming great odds” or “relying on her own inner strength.”  As the film makes quite clear, Tubman’s reliance on God gave her great strength and helped her overcome the greatest of odds.  In a time when far tamer references to faith, prayer, or God can be cause for cultural cancellation, I am so thankful that the producers of “Harriet” featured this part of her life story from the beginning of the movie to the very end.  But even so, the film does not picture God as some weird crutch or wish-granting genie in Tubman’s life.

     The movie also manages to avoid picturing faith in any way that resembles the prosperity gospel.  Though Tubman prays audibly to God and expects God to answer, He doesn’t always do so in the way she wants or expects.  After her own harrowing and unlikely escape early in the film, Tubman believes God wants her to rescue her husband.  But she’s horrified when she returns to the South to discover he’s now married to another woman.  She comes to believe instead that God sent her back for the sake of others.

     Later in the film, Tubman is confused and desperate when her sister refuses to be rescued.  She prays for relief, but it doesn’t always come. God speaks to her, sometimes with comfort and sometimes “like a slap.”  While some critics think this depiction of the Christian God looks too much like mysticism, I would suggest the film portrays her relationship with God in a way that is nuanced, complicated, and realistic.

     We can also be thankful that “Harriet’s” screenwriters didn’t turn her into a cliched, female superhero.  Certainly, Tubman’s achievements defy belief: She personally led 70 slaves to freedom, served as a spy for the Union Army, and led an armed battalion during the Civil War.  Still, “Harriet’s” producers chose to portray her in a beautifully human way.

     Tubman doesn’t deliver pithy, vengeful one-liners, even when confronting her former slave-keeper.  She’s not some heroine who’s unusually strong or powerful.  She simply had the courage to obey God—a God who sometimes confused her.  There’s not a lot more inspiring than that.  Her story reminds us that self-sacrifice, even if impractical, has great value.  Every return trip she made to the South was, in any practical sense, a terrible idea.  She was likely to fail.

     But thank God that after tasting freedom in Philadelphia, she didn’t count her own comfort as something to be grasped.  She had suffered so greatly that her freedom, once she found it, had to be shared.  All followers of Christ should feel that same urgency when we remember what the Cross has done for us.

     Some critics have noted, with disdain, the movie’s lack of violence.  This only makes me wonder how much violence we actually want.  Make no mistake, there is plenty of violence in the film, on a level that could be too much for pre-teens.  On the other hand, given the nature of the subject, the filmmakers could have gone a lot further.  I’m glad they didn’t.

     I took two of my daughters to see the film, the youngest of which is 12.  She is a mature 12, and I’d say this was as intense a film as she’s seen.  The movie is rated PG-13 for three instances of profanity and for many racial epithets—which is to be expected in a movie that deals with slavery.  Still, I was grateful for this opportunity to confront the sins of our nation’s past with my daughters, while also being reminded that God is still at work in the darkest of times through real people.

     Hollywood is an unlikely place to find a representation of a good, complicated God.  But then again, Tubman was an unlikely hero.  Thank God He accomplishes the unlikely through the unlikely.

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Watch the Trailer for “Harriet”

See also:   www.https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2016/05/07/1122-a-tough-woman-of-god/

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HARRIET TUBMAN QUOTES:

I said to de Lord, ‘I’m goin’ to hold steady on to you, an’ you’ve got to see me through.’

If you hear the dogs, keep going.  If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.  If there’s shouting after you, keep going.  Don’t ever stop.  Keep going.  If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

I would fight for my liberty so long as my strength lasted, and if the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.

I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.

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Exodus 3:7-8a…10  —  The Lord said (to Moses), “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them…  So now, go.  I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Galatians 5:1  —  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Psalm 22:4-5  —  (My God), In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them.  To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

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O God, you have given us life through your Son, Jesus Christ.  You have given us the security of faith in a world that longs for something on which to rely.  We give you thanks.  

Teach us to stand strong for your Kingdom.  Help us to know Your love and to love each other. 

Give us enough tests to make us strong, enough vision and endurance to follow Your way, enough patience to persist when the going is difficult, enough of reality to know our weakness, and enough humility to remember these gifts are from you.

Go before us to prepare the way; walk behind us to be our protection; and walk beside us to be our companion.  Amen.  (source lost)

2140) Thou Shalt Not Compare

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By Rick Warren, November 7 ‘Daily Hope’ devotional  blog at:  http://www.pastorrick.com

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     God is more interested in your character than your comfort.  He’s not going to give you things if you haven’t learned the principle of contentment first. 

     Contentment is not a lack of ambition.  It’s not a lack of goals.  Contentment means your happiness doesn’t depend on your circumstances.

     How do you eliminate discontent?  You eliminate the cause: comparing.  We compare everything in this country—lawns, cars, husbands and wives, clothes, the education of our kids, etc.  Whenever you compare, you’re going to become discontent.  You’ve got to learn to stop comparing yourself to others.

     Paul says in Philippians 4:12, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”  Contentment does not come naturally; it is something we have to learn.  The Bible says, “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it” (1 Timothy 6:6-7).

     One of the greatest secrets in learning to be content is to realize that you don’t really own anything.  It’s all on loan to you for only a few decades.  You didn’t bring a single thing into this world, and you’re not going to carry anything out of it, either.  You just get to use it while you’re here on earth.

     The Bible calls this stewardship.  You are the manager or steward of what God allows you to have while you’re here, but it’s not really yours.  When you understand that you’re just a manager of the blessings God allows in your life and you hold them with an open hand, you won’t be uptight about losing them.

     So what if you lose things?  God can turn off one faucet and turn on another just as easily.  Learn to be content because things don’t last.  God is more interested in your character than your comfort.

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Philippians 4:11b-12  —  …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

I Timothy 6:7-8  —  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.

Hebrews 13:5  —  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

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A PRAYER FROM PROVERBS 30:7-9: 

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

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2139) How Prayer Works

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Matthew 14:15-21  —  As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.  Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away.  You give them something to eat.”  “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.  “Bring them here to me,” he said.  And he directed the people to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves.  Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

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    Yesterday’s meditation raised the question of how a good God can allow suffering in the world.  I pointed out that the Bible responds to this question in a variety of ways, and one of those ways is in the Matthew 14 story of the feeding of the 5,000.  The disciples bring to Jesus the problem of people who are hungry, and Jesus says, “You give them something to eat.”  The same story is told in John 6, where Jesus asks Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  

     Philip thinks this is a ridiculous suggestion.  He wonders how they were supposed to do that, saying, “Six months wages would not be enough to give each person even one bite.”  Philip could have added, “Don’t forget Jesus, we all quit our jobs to follow you, so we don’t even have one month’s wage on hand with all of us put together.”  You wouldn’t have to be a pessimist or a negative thinker or even a person of small faith to see that what Jesus suggested was an outrageous, impossible solution– telling twelve unemployed men to buy lunch for 5,000 people.

     But then one of the disciples started to do something.  John 6:8 tells us that it was Andrew who found a boy with a little lunch along, and said to Jesus, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.”  Good old Andrew– there’s a positive thinker for you, a man of real faith.  I can see him cheerfully telling the other disciples, “Well, at least it is a start.”  But even he had to add, “I don’t know how far this will go among so many.”

     Then came the miracle, and a little boy’s small lunch fed 5,000 people.  There was a problem and Jesus said, “Do something about it.”  Do not just sit there and talk about it, do not let it destroy your faith and trust in God, don’t waste your time writing angry books about it, don’t even wait around for God to take care of it– just do something about it, Jesus said.  Little you, with the little bit you have, can begin to do something about it, and then watch God bless the efforts.  Even something so small as a boy’s lunch can make a difference.

     When faced with 5,000 hunger people, Philip threw up his arms and said, “It can’t be done.”  But Andrew said, “Here’s a little boy’s lunch,” and soon everyone had their fill.

     Andrew’s response reminds me of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.  Fuller’s goal for Habitat for Humanity was to, in the name of Jesus, provide a decent place to live for every single human being on earth.  That’s a big goal, and when he started talking to people about investing in his new ministry, many thought he was crazy.  He was doing a radio interview one time and somebody called in to say just that.  “You are crazy,” the caller said, “How do you think you are going to provide a decent home for everyone on earth?”  “Well,” said Fuller confidently and cheerfully, “Our plan is a simple one.  Our motto is ‘no more shacks,’ and so we are just going to build one house after another until we are finished, and everyone on earth has a decent house to live in.  And then,” he added, “when we get all done with that, we’ll think of something else to do.”  Just like Andrew, he was willing to get started with what he had, and see what the Lord would do with his efforts.  The work of Habitat is not done yet, but with volunteer labor, and donations given to provide interest free loans, Habitat has built or repaired over a million affordable homes over the last 40+ years, providing homes, instead of shacks, for five million people.

   The New Testament is filled with this message, and the first Christians went right to work to obey Jesus’ command to serve those in need.  Although they were small in number, their service to others began to have a huge impact, and was noticed.  Even one of the early enemies of the church, a Roman official, in a report to his superiors on the problem of Christians in the Empire, had to admit that “These followers of Jesus are good people; they feed their own poor, and they feed ours too.”  That example of service to others, and that witness to their love and the love of their God, eventually won over a majority of the Roman empire to the Christian faith.

    Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) could write a book about ‘why God is not great and how religion spoils everything,’ and another book on what a terrible person Mother Teresa was; but none of that did anyone much good.  But when Mother Teresa brought starving homeless people in off of the street for a meal and a place to stay, lives were touched with the love of Jesus.  And when millions of less famous Christians around the world stock local food shelves or give to their church’s hunger appeals, hungry people are fed, one at a time.  

     Feeding the hungry is not a burden; rather, it is a privilege to be allowed in on this great work of God.  If the whole world shared like Jesus said we should, the whole world would be fed.  God has provided enough resources to feed everyone, but human sin, greed, corruption, and war are always interfering with the distribution of those resources.  But as each individual person does what they can by sharing, that response becomes one small part of the answer to the problem of suffering.

     And then, don’t forget to give thanks to God that you are one of those blessed enough to be able to give, and not among those who do not know where their next meal is coming from.

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2138) Thought-Provoking Books

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     I was browsing around in a Barnes and Noble bookstore one day and saw a table featuring “Thought-Provoking Books.”  Items on the table included entertaining books of mathematical brain-teasers, mind-boggling books on astronomy and physics, and off-the-wall books on politics.  There were also several books on the topic of religion and philosophy.  I looked at each one of those books and was frustrated to find that every thought-provoking book in the section was negative on faith and religion.  Books like The God DelusionAtheist AmericaThe Quotable Atheist, and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything were all there.  All were bestsellers at that time, and the bookstore wanted to cash in on that popularity.  That’s their business, so no problem there.  But I wondered about the selection process of those books that were considered ‘thought provoking.’  

     There are all kinds of ‘thought-provoking’ books written in response to these atheistic books, and many books written by Christians over the centuries that speak to the questions raised in these books.  Barnes and Nobles does have a great section on religion, and many of those good books are there.  But why not even one single positive book on faith in the ‘thought provoking books’ section?  Some of them were also selling very well at that time.  Was that store manager of the opinion that religious people do not think and just blindly believe what they are told?  I had been looking for one book in particular that was also published at about that same time.  It was by Anthony Flew, a world famous philosopher and out-spoken atheist for 60 years.  Anthony Flew then changed his mind, and his last book was entitled There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.  I bet that would be thought-provoking.  Another good book would be I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek.  That also sounds thought-provoking, but that book wasn’t there either.

     I know what all of those anti-religion books say.  They make the usual challenges with questions like, ‘If there was an all-powerful and all-loving God, then why is there so much suffering in the world?’  And that is indeed a huge question.  But you don’t need a $29.00 book to raise that question in your mind, do you?  Anyone who has ever suffered, any one who has watched a loved die, anyone who reads the newspaper will ask time and again, ‘Why Lord?’  The Bible itself asks that question time and again, as God’s people over the centuries struggled with what looked to them like God’s lack of power, lack of concern, or both.  The Bible has many responses to this question, and believers over the years have struggled with this challenge within the context of their faith, and, they have come to many profound insights and answers.  The problem of suffering leads some away from the faith, and leads many to deeper faith, but everyone thinks about it.  It is too bad that the Barnes and Noble manager considered only one type of response thought-provoking.

     I would be quick to agree that there is no full and completely satisfying answer to this question of suffering.  And even the best answers will seem most inadequate to anyone who is in the midst of suffering.  But God’s ways are not our ways, the Bible tells us, and we should not be surprised if we do not understand everything about God.  

     And perhaps the whole answer is in the Bible, and it is just that we, in our sinful minds, do not find it satisfying.  Perhaps God’s attempts to reason with us are like a parent’s attempt to reason with a child…

     “Mom, why can’t we have candy for supper,” says five-year old Teddy.  “I like candy, but I don’t like that goulash you are making again.”
     “Well,” says mother, “eating candy all the time would not be good for you.  It is not very nutritious, and you will never grow big and strong by just eating candy; and not only that, but too much sugar can make you sick, and even cause diseases, and its not very good for your teeth either.”
     “Yes, mom,” replies Teddy, “I know all that, but why can’t we have candy for supper every night?”

     Good reasons are given, but the small child’s little mind doesn’t get it.  Perhaps it is that our small, sinful human minds just cannot or will not comprehend or accept the knowledge and insights given in the Bible about why God allows suffering in this world.

     Most importantly of all, despite our lack of understanding, God’s most important response to the problem of suffering the wonderful hope and promise of the time and place when there will be no more suffering and no more pain.  That much in the Bible is very clear.

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Psalm 10:1  —  Why, Lord, do you stand far off?  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psalm 13:1-2a  —  How long, Lord?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?

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

Revelation 21:4-5a  —  God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

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How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?  Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds…

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 Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength.

–Habakkuk 1:2-3…3:17-19a

2137) “But Who’s Making the Money?”

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Millard Fuller was the founder of ‘Habitat for Humanity.’  In his book Love in the Mortar Joints, 1980, (pages 70, 71) he tells this story from the early of the organization, when people were still trying to understand what he was doing.

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     Even though many people throughout the United States understood and supported this effort to relate the Gospel to the poor in tangible ways, many people did not, especially some of our closer neighbors.

     As the first two houses were nearing completion, we called the local power company to request that they hook up the electricity.  When their work crew arrived, I was at the building site.  As the men began their job, the foreman of the crew sidled up to me and asked, “Who’s building all these houses?”  He swept his arm out, indicating the 42 lots we had staked off.

     “Koinonia is building them,” I replied.  “You know of Koinonia, don’t you?  We are a Christian community right down the road.”  (The place Fuller was living when he first started building houses for the poor, even before it was called Habitat for Humanity.)

     “Yes,” he said, “”I’ve heard of Koinonia.  But why are you building all these houses?”

     “We are building them for poor people– folks who don’t have a decent house to live in.  You’ve seen people around here living in bad houses, haven’t you?”

     “You mean those nigger shacks up and down the road?” he said.

     “Well, I wouldn’t put it just like that, but you’ve got the idea,” I said.

     “Okay, but I still don’t understand.  Who is making the money out of this project?”

     “No one,” I responded.  “It is a Christian venture, and building these houses is an expression of our faith.  The houses are sold to people with no profit added to the cost of construction and no interest charged.  The people will pay low monthly payments over a 20-year period.  We get the money for construction from gifts and non-interest loans from friends of Koinonia around the country and from shared profits of the Koinonia farming operations.”

     “But why are you building the houses if no one is making any money out of it?”

     I was becoming exasperated.  “I’ve already told you,” I said.  “We are building them to help our neighbors who desperately need a decent house; we are doing this project because we are Christians and we believe Christians ought to help their neighbors when they are in need.”

     He shook his head in disbelief, saying, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of!”

     Now it was my turn to ask a question.  “Sir,” I said, “you’ve been grilling me about this project.  Now I’d like to ask you a question.  Are you by any chance a Christian?”

     He drew himself up to his full stature and beamed with pride.

     “Yes, sir,” he said, “I am a deacon in my church.”

     And I said, “You are a deacon, and helping someone is the craziest thing you’ve ever heard of?”

     “Yes,” he replied.  “I’ve never heard of anything like this!”  And he walked away, shaking his head.

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II Timothy 3:1-5a  —  But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.

James 2:14-17  —  What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

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Father, as we diligently labor for You it is not to bring attention to ourselves, but it is to bring glory to Your name and to further Your kingdom.  Help us to find our place where we can develop our gifts and expend our labors in Your service.  Amen.  –source lost