2098) A Good Name

 

By Armstrong Williams, businessman and nationally syndicated columnist (March 1996 column).

     One summer day my father sent me to buy wire and fencing for our farm in Marion County, South Carolina.  At 16, I liked nothing better than getting behind the wheel of our Chevy pickup, but this time there was a damper on my spirits.  My father had told me I’d have to ask for credit at the store.

     Sixteen is a prideful age, when a young man wants respect, not charity.  It was 1976, and the ugly shadow of racism was a fact of life.  I’d seen my friends ask for credit and then stand, head down, while a patronizing store owner questioned whether they were “good for it.”  I knew black youths just like me who were watched like thieves by the store clerk each time they went into a grocery.

     My family was honest.  We paid our debts.  But before harvest, cash was short.  Would the store owner trust us?

     At Davis Brothers General Store, Buck Davis stood behind the register, talking to a middle-aged farmer.  Buck was a tall, weathered man in a red hunting shirt and khaki pants, and I nodded as I passed him on my way to the hardware aisle.  When I brought my purchases to the register, I said carefully, “I need to put this on credit.”

     The farmer gave me an amused, cynical look.  But Buck’s face didn’t change.  “Sure,” he said easily. “Your daddy is always good for it.”  He turned to the other man.  “This here is one of James Williams’s sons.”

     The farmer nodded in a neighborly way.  I was filled with pride.  James Williams’s son.  Those three words had opened a door to an adult’s respect and trust.

     That day I discovered that a good name could bestow a capital of good will of immense value.  The good name my father and mother had earned brought our whole family the respect of our neighbors.  Everyone knew what to expect from a Williams:  a decent person who kept his word and respected himself too much to do wrong.

     We children — eight brothers and two sisters – could enjoy that good name, unearned, unless and until we did something to lose it.  Compromising it would hurt not only the transgressor but also those we loved and those who loved us.  We had a stake in one another — and in ourselves.

     A good name, and the responsibility that came with it, forced us children to be better than we otherwise might be.  We wanted to be thought of as good people, and by acting like good people for long enough, we became pretty decent citizens.

     The desire to keep the respect of a good name propelled me to become the first in our family to go to university.  Eventually, it gave me the initiative to start my own successful public relations firm in Washington, D.C..

     I thought about the power of a good name when I heard Colin Powell say that America needs to restore a sense of shame in its neighborhoods.  He’s right.  If pride in a good name keeps families and neighborhoods straight, a sense of shame is the reverse side of that coin.

    Doing drugs, abusing alcohol, stealing, getting a young woman pregnant out of wedlock — today, none of these behaviors are the deep embarrassment they should be.  Nearly one out of three births in America is to an unwed mother.  Many of these children will grow up without the security and guidance of a caring father and mother committed to each other.

     Once the social ties and mutual obligations of the family disintegrate, communities fall apart.  Politicians may boast that crime is falling, but while the population has increased only 40 percent since 1960, violent crime in America has increased a staggering 550 percent — and we’ve become used to it.  Teen drug abuse is rising again.  No neighborhood is immune…

     Cultural influences such as television and movies portray mostly a world in which respect goes to the most violent.  Life is considered cheap.

     Meanwhile, the small signs of civility and respect that sustain civilization are vanishing from schools, stores and streets.  Phrases like “yes, ma’am,” “no, sir,” “thank you” and “please” show self-respect and respect for others.  Yet, encouraged by the pervasive profanity on television and in music, kids don’t think twice about aggressive and vulgar language.

     Many of today’s kids have failed because their sense of shame has failed.  They were born into families with poor reputations, not caring about keeping a good name.

     Today, when I’m back home, I receive respect because of the good name passed on as my father’s patrimony and upheld to this day by me and my siblings.  People like Buck Davis came to know of my success in the world.  But it was my family’s good name that paved the way.

     Keeping a good name is rewarded not only by outsiders’ esteem but when those who know you best put their confidence in you.  In the last months of his life Daddy, typically, worried more about my mother than about his illness.  He wanted to spare her the grief of watching him die at home.  So he came to me.

     By then I was living and working in Washington, D. C.  When Daddy arrived from South Carolina, I had him admitted to a nearby hospital.  For two months, I spent every day sitting by his bedside.  Both of us knew he had little time left.

     When he was not in too much pain to talk, he would ask about the family.  He wanted to be sure he had met his responsibilities in this world.  On the last day, I was there with him as he passed away.

    My daddy had never been rich or powerful.  But in his dying, he gave me a last gift:  his faith that I was the man he had wanted me to be.  By trusting me to care for him at the moment of his passing, he showed not only his love, but his pride and confidence in me.

     After all, I was James Williams’s son — a Williams of Marion, South Carolina —  and a Williams would do right.

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Proverbs 22:1  —  A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Proverbs 3:1-4  —  My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity.  Let love and faithfulness never leave you… write them on the tablet of your heart.  Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

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I confess and ask for your grace, because I have so often in my life sinfully spoke with malice and contempt against other people.  They depend on me for their honor and reputation, just as I depend on them for the same.  Help us all to obey this commandment, giving our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, and explaining their actions in the kindest way.  Amen.

–Martin Luther, prayer on the 8th commandment

2096) Hypocrites in the Church

     One of the most common criticisms of the church is that it has too many hypocrites.  To someone making this objection, I would say, “Are you kidding?  Of course we have hypocrites.  We also have liars, cheaters, snobs, adulterers, fornicators, people who are too greedy for their own good, crabby and ungrateful people, angry and mean-spirited people, jealous people, people who gossip, smart-alecks, rebellious teenagers, and we might even have a few bigots.  Yes, we do let in just about anybody.  In fact, the only type of people we don’t allow is perfect people.  And that’s because Jesus himself said he wasn’t here for them.  He was one time criticized for hanging around with some people with a bad reputation and he told them he wasn’t here for the healthy but for the sick.”

      In Luke 15:1-7 Jesus tells a parable about a good shepherd who looks all over and tries everything to get back one lost little sheep.  Well, that’s who the church is here for– for those who are lost in sin or confusion or envy or despair or even hypocrisy.  And just because someone has signed up for membership doesn’t mean they have overcome all the sin in their life. 

     What would the critics want us to do?  Keep out all hypocrites?  Who else then should we keep out?  And then who should decide who we allow in and who we do not allow in?  Well, we have decided to let Jesus decide, and Jesus says let anyone in, that is, unless they are perfect. 

      Now, once in, everyone is expected to start making some changes.  God accepts us as we are, but he doesn’t want us to stay like that.  God expects us all to grow in faith and obedience to his Law.  But all are invited to get started.

     My wife and I had a couple kids.  And do you know that when they came home from the hospital after they were born, they couldn’t even talk or walk?!  But we brought them home anyway, hoping there would be some improvement in their abilities.  And there was– but it took a while.  

     In God’s eyes, we are all children, babies even, crawling along in the faith, with a long way to go.  But God is working on us, and he does that by his Word, and you hear that Word in church.  Some people might be doing better than others, and some aren’t doing very well at all.  But I do believe God is making some progress with each of us; and you never know how much worse someone would be if they weren’t coming to church and did not have that connection to God.

      Yes, the church has its troubles, we often do not get along like we should, and we might not always give the best impression to outsiders.  The church is made up of sinners, to be sure.  But so is every other group of people.  Does anyone ever find the perfection they seek at work, in schools, in the business world, in the government, in their entertainment choices, in their families, in their neighbors, in their friends… or anywhere? 

     I also have had my frustrations with the church, but there are some things that I get there that I can get nowhere else:  an eternal word from God, and an opportunity to confess my sins and start over, a promise that lifts me above my troubles, and, a really wonderful group of people, though we are all still imperfect sinners.  It’s a messy world out there, and the church is no different.  But I go to church to find a word of grace and hope, the opportunity each week to have a fresh start and do better, and fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

     In Numbers 10:29 Moses, an insider, makes an invitation to Hobab, an outsider.  Moses said to him, “Come with us, Hobab, and it will do thee good.”  Hobab says no, just like a lot of people we might invite to church often say no, perhaps citing the large number of hypocrites.  But Moses asks again, “Please do not leave us,” he says, “we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”  There the conversation ends.  We don’t know what Hobab did.  But this was a friendly invitation, from a tired man, who was leading a motley crew of imperfect and infuriating people, through a dreary wilderness.  But Moses knew they were on their way to something better, and said, “Come on along.  It will do thee good.  The Lord has good things to give us.” 

     When people object to who we are and what we do, we oftentimes have to agree they might be right.  We all have our ‘issues,’ as they say now-days.  But none of us are in the church primarily because we are so good, or, because the rest of the people there are so good– but because God is so good.  “The Lord,” Moses said, “The Lord has good things for us.” 

     As the Psalmist prayed many centuries ago, “Oh give thanks, unto the Lord, for He is good, and his mercy endures forever.”

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Mark 2:16-18  —  When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples:  “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Numbers 10:29…32  —  Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, “We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it you:’ come thou with us, and we will do thee good:  for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel…  And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.”

Colossians 3:15-17  —   Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

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Praise ye the Lord.  O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 106:1

2097) Persecuted

From the NEW YORK POST, December 12, 2014:

     Four Christian children were beheaded by ISIS militants in Iraq for refusing to denounce Jesus and convert to Islam, according to the leader of the Anglican church in Baghdad.  Canon Andrew White, know as the “Vicar of Baghdad,” fled Iraq in October for Israel and recounted how brutal the country has become for Christians.

     “ISIS turned up and said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Mohammed,’” White said in a video posted on the Christian Broadcasting Network Web site.  “The children, four of them, all under 15, said, ‘No, we love Yeshua (Jesus), we have always loved Yeshua.’  They chopped all their heads off.  How do you respond to that?  You just cry.”

See also:  Emailmeditation #370)  The Vicar of Baghdad; ( https://emailmeditations.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/370-the-vicar-of-baghdad/ )

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From The Voice of the Martyrs (website:  http://www.persecution.com/  ):

     Little 3-year-old “Joel” was on his way home from Sunday school when Islamic terrorists ripped his children’s Bible from his hands and tossed it onto a burning pile.  Joel ran after his Bible and tried to scoot it out of the flames with a stick.  When one of the insurgents saw him, he shoved Joel’s head into the fire and held it down with his boot.  “You stubborn infidel,” the man hissed.

Joel

Joel

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From The Persecution Blog, by Dr. Jason Peters, on The Voice of the Martyrs website: 

     In July of 2013, two young girls in Pakistan received a copy of The Story of Jesus in their native language of Urdu.  The Christians who distributed the booklets happily reported that these girls trusted Christ after reading these engaging booklets.  Two more sisters were added to our Christian family!

Peshawar Victims

   Just a couple of months later, on a sunny Sunday morning, two suicide bombers entered the All Saints Church compound in Peshawar, Pakistan.  These Islamists waited until the services were over and the nearly 500 worshipers began to gather for a meal together.  At 11:45, they detonated their suicide vests and killed 78 people and injured another 130.  It was the deadliest attack on the Christian minority in the history of Pakistan.

     In October, I received word that the two young sisters who received The Story of Jesus during the July distribution, and began to follow Jesus, were killed in the attack on that bright Sunday morning.

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Matthew 5:10  —  (Jesus said), “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 10:38-39  —  (Jesus said), “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”

Matthew 18:6  —  (Jesus said), “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

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Almighty God, who has taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted; strengthen, comfort and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment and even death for being followers of Jesus.   We pray for those who persecute your people; may their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.   Protect those who are persecuted and bless their ministries.   Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

2095) Lessons from Candy Land

By Joshua Rogers, posted September 21, 2019 at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

Image result for playing candyland images

     I’ve spent a lot of time on the floor with my kids playing with all kinds of toys, including blocks, baby dolls and board games.  The kids love being there with me and I love being with them too.  One person they can thank for that is my mom.

     Mom never had a prestigious job; she didn’t feed me organic foods; and she didn’t enroll me in a Spanish immersion school.  We didn’t have a lot of money, so she didn’t give me lots of toys either.  But here’s what she did give me: her time, her attention, herself.   And in doing so, she gave me a lot more than that.

     When I was a kid, I just assumed Mom wanted to do the activities I found interesting.   Although I’m sure she did enjoy being with me, now that I’m a parent, I know it was more challenging than I realized.

     I remember being five and Mom playing Candy Land with me before nap time. I thought it was great fun.  I don’t know if you’ve played that game recently, but it’s not particularly challenging or fun at all.  Nonetheless, Mom kept on flipping those cards, trying to beat me to the Candy Castle.

     I remember being three and my mom standing in a yellow, terrycloth tube-top in the back yard, spraying water on a shower curtain she spread onto the grass.  Over and over, my brother and I ran and jumped onto the makeshift Slip n’ Slide as she held the water hose.  I felt like I was at a theme park; but I imagine that standing in one place spraying the water hose got old after a few minutes.  If Mom got tired of doing it, she didn’t make that known to us.

     I remember Mom taking me for a walk through the woods in my hometown of Petal, Mississippi.  When we came to a little stream, I didn’t know how to get around it without getting my red and white sneakers wet.  She showed me how to toss a large stick in the middle of the stream and use it as a stepping stone.  She could’ve just done that herself, but she took the time to explain it to me.

     After we got through the woods, Mom took me to the Sunflower grocery story, bought a Baby Ruth, and split it with me.  We sat on a curb together and talked about God knows what.  Whatever the conversation was, I’m sure it was a lot less stimulating than the adult conversations she could’ve had if she were at work.

     Here’s what my mother communicated to me by playing Candy Land, setting up a makeshift Slip n’ Slide, walking with me through the woods and having conversations with me: You are valuable.  The little things you care about aren’t little things at all, because you’re important to me.  What matters to you matters to me.

      I believe God cares about us like that, and it’s important that we realize it.  If we trust that He cares about the little things, we will trust Him with every area of our lives, which can sometimes seem so insignificant.

     That’s why one of the most powerful ways we can teach the Gospel to our kids is to play with them, listen to them, spend time with them and care about those things that are important to them.  If they believe we care about their concerns when they are young, they will be more likely to believe God cares about their concerns when they are adults.

     So thanks, Mom – you thought we were just trying to make it to Candy Castle.  You were teaching me how to receive the love of God.

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Matthew 25:21  —  (Jesus said), “The master answered, ‘You did well. You are a good and loyal servant. Because you were loyal with small things, I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me.’”

I John 4:19  —  We love because God first loved us.

Luke 18:16  —  Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

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A PRAYER FOR PARENTS (by John Cosin):

 Almighty God and heavenly Father, we thank you for the children which you have given us; give us also grace to train them in your faith, fear, and love; that as they advance in years they may grow in grace, and may hereafter be found in the number of your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

2094) Prayer to Make Good Use of Sickness

By Blaise Pascal  (1663-1662)  (Adapted)

     Lord, you are good and gentle in all your ways; and your mercy is so great that not only the blessings but also the misfortunes of your people are channels of your compassion.  Grant that I may turn to you as a Father in my present condition, since the change in my own state from health to sickness brings no change to you.  You are always the same, and you are my loving Father in times of trouble and in times of joy alike.

     You gave me health that I might serve you; and so often I failed to use my good health in your service.  Now you send me sickness in order to correct me.  I pray that I may not use this sickness to irritate you by impatience.  I made bad use of my health, and you have justly punished me for it; O, that I may not make bad use of my punishment.  In my sinfulness, your favors to me became snares to my spiritual life; grant, O Lord, that your chastisements may be beneficial to my spirit.  My health was full of pride and selfish ambition when I was well.  Now please let sickness destroy that pride and ambition.  Render me incapable of enjoying any worldly pleasures, if that is what is necessary for me to learn to depend on you alone.  Grant that I may learn to trust in you, now in the lonely silence of my sick bed.  Grant that, having ignored the things of the spirit when my body was vigorous, I may now enjoy spiritual blessings while my body groans with pain.

     How happy is the heart, O God, that can love you and find its peace in you.  How secure and durable is the happiness that is found in you since you endure forever.  Neither life nor death can separate such happiness from its source.  Move my heart, O God, to repentance for all my faults, and for all the many times I looked elsewhere for fulfillment and hope.  Let this disorder in my body be the means by which my soul is put in order.  I can now find no happiness in physical things; let me find happiness only in you.

     You can see me, Lord, as I truly am; and surely you can find nothing pleasing.  I can see in myself, Lord, nothing but my sufferings.  Yet I find comfort in the knowledge that, in a small way, my sufferings resemble your sufferings.  You became a man and suffered in order to save all people.  In your own body you embraced all bodily suffering.  Look down, Lord, on the pains that I suffer, and on this illness that afflicts me.  Let my sorrows become my invitation to you to visit me.  

     Uproot in me, Lord, the self-pity on which self-love feeds.  Let me not dwell with self-pity on my own sufferings.  Let me not regret the loss of worldly pleasures, but remind me that such pleasures can never satisfy my heart.  Let me henceforth ask for neither health nor life, but rather let me be content with your will for me.  Let health and sickness, life and death, be equal in my sight.  Let me joyfully acknowledge you as king, able to give or take away your blessings as you wish.  Let me trust in your eternal providence, receiving with equal reverence all that comes to me from you.

      And finally, as I share in your sufferings, let me one day share in the joy of your risen life.

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Death mask of Blaise Pascal.

Pascal, a mathematical genius and inventor, died at the age of 39, suffering from many ailments.  His last words were, “May God never abandon me.”

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Romans 5:1-5  —  Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

1 Peter 4:12-13  —  Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

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.

2093) How to Win the Lottery

Image result for winning lottery images

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By Jeff Minnick, my favorite writer at http://www.intellectualtakeout.org , posted there September 20, 2019. 

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It’s mid-September, and I am privileged to spend five nights at a beach house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina at the invitation of a long-time friend, John.  Two of John’s other friends, Susan and Franklin, are also here.

The weather so far has brought ocean breezes, blue skies, and moderate temperatures.  The house is two blocks from the water’s edge, surrounded by live oak trees and the usual collection of smaller, scruffy plants found near the ocean in this area.  The interior sports all the modern amenities – an icemaker in the refrigerator, a microwave, a gas fireplace, and more – and is decorated with seashells, paintings, and unusual furniture.  The owners’ wine bottles, for example, sit on a rack in a painted canoe, cut in half and standing erect.  The shower in my bathroom measures five feet by five feet and sports two shower-heads.  Behind the house is a swimming pool replete with palm trees and a covered porch.

Lap of luxury doesn’t begin to describe this home, which opens its arms to visitors, embraces them, and encourages them to cast aside their worries.

At one point, Franklin and I were talking when the subject of the lottery came up.

“Friends are always telling me I should play the lottery,” Franklin, who like me is a man of modest means, said.  “They say, ‘Franklin, you could win $63 million.’”

“And what do you say?”

“I tell them I already won the lottery,” Franklin said.  “I was born in the United States of America in the middle of the twentieth century.”

There is a man who understands the meaning of gratitude.

As Franklin later pointed out, the average American in 2019 lives better than royalty only a century ago.  Our homes are climate controlled, we travel by car and plane, and our medical care is superb.  We go to the supermarket and select food from around the world; we communicate via the internet and cell phones; we possess at our fingertips more venues for news and entertainment than we can possibly absorb; and we have vast opportunities for education and bettering ourselves.

Even the poor in America fare better than many in the rest of the world.  In a piece for Forbes, Tim Worstall addresses the gulf between rich and poor Americans, but then demonstrates that Americans living below the poverty line are still “richer than 70% of all the people extant.”

And our response to these incredible gifts?

All too often it is resentment, greed, and ingratitude.

Some of us resent those who have more money or possessions.  We rent a mobile home, while a family a mile away lives in a mansion.  We look across the valley at that chateau and despise them for their wealth.  We fail to consider that they pay more in taxes every year than we earn, that they gave employment to a construction crew for months, that they may have invested their time, talent, and money more wisely than we did.

I felt that resentment toward others for a few years in my thirties.  It was an ugly foolishness I eventually abandoned.

We are greedy for more, more, more.  We own a Honda but want a BMW.  We own a three-bedroom house perfectly adequate to our needs, but want five bedrooms.

Worst of all is our ingratitude.

We have liberties that would have astounded a slave in Ancient Rome, a serf in Medieval England, or a black woman in the American South in 1950.  We have wealth and advantages beyond the ken of our great-grandparents.  Best of all, we are alive, whirling about the sun on a planet that nourishes us, surrounded by our fellow human beings whose talents and intelligence bring us amazing advancements in such areas as medicine and technology.

Yet many of us indulge in a daily litany of complaints about our lives.  We moan about our healthcare, our housing, our jobs, our missed chances, our lack of money.  Perhaps these complaints are part of our nature, but given our abundance of wealth and the comparative discomforts of the generations which preceded us, these complaints should also embarrass us.           

My time at this beach house, where stress and obligation have drained away, where the pace is slow, has reminded me to be grateful for being a part of the human parade, for a beating heart, for the chance to soak in the beauty around me.

Some debts can never be repaid.

For me, being alive in America in 2019 is one of them.

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Proverbs 14:30  —  A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Psalm 103:2  —  Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 8:3-4  —  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

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O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

–Psalm 107:1

2092) Giving Thanks for Everyday Miracles

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

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

Heart

I thank you, Lord, for my heart.

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

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

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

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

Sight

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Dr. Paul Brand

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

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2091) Be Not Afraid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Psalm 23:4

2090) Catacombs

 

By Stephen Nichols at:

http://5minutesinchurchhistory.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catacomb epitaph

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

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

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

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PRAYER FOR DEPARTED LOVED ONES:

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

–William Penn  (1644-1718)

2089) The Greatest Hymn of Thanksgiving Ever Written

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

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

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

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

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

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Martin Rinkhart  (1586-1649)

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

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

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

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NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD

By Martin Rinkhart  (1586-1649)

Listen at:

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

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

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