1980) Mixed Emotions

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By Rachel Wilhelm, posted June 18, 2013, at:  http://www.joshuarogers.com

     When I was 17 years old, I had sex on the first day of my senior year of high school and got pregnant.  I was a pastor’s kid, and since my parents always had a high view of appearances, my mother was particularly mortified at what this would do to her.

     Pregnancy in its seemingly unnatural form – out of wedlock – is a situation that no one quite knows how to handle.  It’s eventually very outward, so it’s shameful because you’re unmarried and you’ve been doing something you weren’t supposed to – but at the same time, babies are fun, right?  So you feel this mixed joy and pain, but you don’t know where to place any one emotion.

     My particular demon was the emotional abuse I endured from my mother after my pregnancy.  All the way up until my child was ten years old, I heard that my main sin was that I “got pregnant.”  You really, truly have no idea how sick I was of those words.  From the beginning of my child’s life, I was wedged between weird feelings of love for my son and awkward feelings of shame over how bad I should be feeling about it.

     My mother had a way of making sure those awkward feelings of shame stayed front and center.

     I lived at home with my mother for a period of time after having my son, and I was told constantly, if not daily, to serve her in some way because I “got pregnant,” because I “owed” her.  My horrendous act was paraded around the house to get me to clean, run errands, and shell out the little money I had.  It literally made me a physical and emotional slave to my sin.

     No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it.  I knew God forgave me, but I was always paying for it.  Even after I met and married my wonderful husband years later, my sin was still a running conversation with my mother.  And when an argument arose or a favor was needed, it made its ugly appearance nearly every time.

     I was even told things like, “Well, you would have had your oldest child with your husband if you wouldn’t have had sex with that other guy.  God would have made sure he would have been your oldest – now he would have looked different, but it would still be the same kid.”  Really?  To say the least, it took me years to unravel the tight hold my old sin had on me.

     Don’t get me wrong.  I always loved my son no matter what.  But again, there was this taint when it came to all of those good things mixed up with the bad teenage pregnancy.  There were no separate boxes for the love of my child and the hatred of my sin.  My son was always thrown into this sinful soup, and I had no way of mentally separating him from the broth.

     As a result of the guilt under which I lived, I didn’t embrace motherhood fully.  I struggled with feeling like my child was my little brother rather than my son.  It was like getting pregnant was my identity, and I was forever trying to live it down or avoid it, waiting for the years to go by so experience, good deeds, and love for my neighbor would eventually counteract the vile work I committed years before.

Then one day it dawned on me.  Call it an epiphany.  Call it God speaking to me directly.  Call it a miracle.  Yes, it was a miracle.  The sentence, “Getting pregnant was not a sin,” entered my mind.  It just entered.  I didn’t read it anywhere.  I didn’t hear it anywhere.  I just thought it.  Well, it certainly wasn’t me.

     The seed grew, and the Scriptures I read soon after watered it:

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.  Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” (Psalm 127: 3-5).

 The truth hit me:  I had spent years of my life feeling guilty for something that was not a sin.  Yes, I committed a sin when I had premarital sex, but my sinful act produced something – someone – beautiful.  And I saw that these were two separate things.  One was my own sinful act, and the next was God’s gracious gift to me.  Again, the Scriptures affirmed it:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:13-16).

 Then that means I got lucky – actually, God favored me.

     Yes, He favored me.  Despite my sin, He chose to grant me a grace, a beauty, a life, an entire blessing.

     This child changed me.  God used this child to mold me into His child.  And I felt joy.  I knew this was true about me.  About my son.

     A few days ago I was talking with my now 17-year-old son about his past.  Our past.  And I said, “No, I shouldn’t have been having sex.  But God gave you to me.”

     He said, “So technically, I should never have been born.  I wasn’t even planned.”

     “Oh son,” I said, “you were planned.  You were exactly what God intended.  I know this more than anyone.  God Himself is the opener and closer of wombs.  He put you there.”

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O Lord, forgive what I have been, sanctify what I am, and order what I shall be.  

–author unknown

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1979) Receiving Grace, Showing Grace

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By Rick Warren, September 10, 2018 Daily Hope devotion, at:  http://www.pastorrick.org

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     Do you show people grace?  It’s what God wants us to do, but it’s not always easy to remember to do because we are so often focused on ourselves.

     It’s easier sometimes to be selfish instead of gracious.  You see the slow checker in the grocery store line as a five-minute interruption to your day rather than somebody who might be struggling to keep his job, somebody who just got the worst news of his life a few minutes earlier.

     You see the one in your family who’s struggling right now as a drain on you rather than seeing her hopelessness over a desperate situation.  You see the person who cut you off on the freeway as the physical embodiment of Satan instead of just a jerk who is in need of God’s love.

    We are all jerks in need of God’s love.  That’s why Jesus Christ came into this world.  And to show people grace is to remember what God has done for us.  The ultimate way God shows us grace is by forgiveness.  And the ultimate way he asks us to show grace to other people is by forgiving them.

     Colossians 3:13 says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (NLT).

     People often ask me, “How can I find the strength to forgive?  I don’t have it in me.”  I don’t have it in me, either!  The only place I’ve ever found the strength to forgive is to remember how much Jesus has forgiven me.  When I remember that, then he gives me the strength and grace to forgive others.

     Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross, was reminded by a friend of an especially cruel thing that somebody had done to her years before.  Barton acted like she didn’t remember it, and the friend asked, “Don’t you remember?”  Her famous reply was, “No, I distinctly remember forgetting it.”

     What do you need to forget?  If you don’t forgive, you’re not going to enjoy God’s vision for the rest of your life, because forgiveness will keep you stuck in the past.  You need to forgive for your sake, and then you need to get on with your life.  Forgiveness is not saying that what somebody did was right or that there shouldn’t be consequences for what happened.  It just means that you let go of your anger and hurt and give it to God so that you can move on with God’s purpose for your life.

     When that seems impossible, when you feel like you can’t be gracious toward someone, just remember one thing: Jesus forgave you.  Remembering the grace God has shown you will give you the strength to be gracious to and forgive others.

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Colossians 3:12-13  —  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Mark 11:25  —  (Jesus said), “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

Luke 23:34a  —  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

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Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

–Jesus, Matthew 6:12

1978) Learning to Appreciate the Church

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By Ron Boyd-MacMillan of Open Doors, in “Why I Need to Encounter the Persecuted Church.”

     It’s so easy to get fed up with church.  For years I got very little out of church.  The sermons were boring.  The music was embarrassing.  The fellowship was non-existent.  The whole experience of worshiping with other people felt stale and pointless.  Going to church in my country was an endurance test.  Until I visited a Persecuted Church.

     There were fifty of us squeezed into an upstairs room.  The singing was hushed.  The neighbors were hostile to the fellowship.  Then a preacher stood up.  An old man, with a wiry frame and wisps of hair springing from a mole on his chin.  No sooner had he spoken a sentence than he broke down in tears.  He kept saying, “I never thought I would have the privilege of preaching again.”  Then he would laugh, then cry again, great wails and sobs.  Soon everyone was weeping with him.  Except me.  This went on for about half an hour, and I began to get very fed up with it all.  He kept speaking a line, and my translator kept saying, “It’s the same verse, it’s the same verse.”  All this man did was repeat the same Scripture phrase, burst into tears, laugh, and then speak the very same phrase again.  I thought, “What kind of hopeless service is this.” 

     But afterwards I met the old man, and when I heard his story I repented of my attitude.  He was a preacher, ordained in the late 1950’s in China.  He pastored a church for only six months before it was closed down.  He was jailed, spending twenty years in prison.  After he got out, he was very ill for a long time, but finally, at age 77, had the strength to speak again.  I had witnessed his first sermon in 31 years!  No wonder he broke down.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like, holding the Word of God inside for 31 years, not knowing whether you would ever again preach.  Then suddenly being allowed to do so.  How do you preach a sermon after a silence of 31 years?  No wonder he was overcome.

     He said, “I never thought I would get the privilege of speaking the Word to a gathered group of Christians with their Bibles open ever again.  Through the long years of prison I thought that experience would never return.  And when it came, as you saw, all I could do was choke out the verse that kept me going: Sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful (Psalm 149:1b).

     I returned home with a transformed attitude.  I began to walk to church with my Bible, praising Him for the opportunity.  I went to the church early, walking the aisles and praying, thanking God for the building and the freedom to hold our service.  When the preacher spoke, I thanked God that he had no fear.  When the Bible was read, I thanked God for the men who took grave risks in the past to print and distribute this word in my language.  When we sang a hymn, I sang out loudly, thanking God that I did not have to whisper in hushed tones.

    Truly, what a privilege is corporate worship.  The Persecuted Church rescued me from bitterness, and taught me to count my blessings I had taken for granted.

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Psalm 149:1  —  Praise the Lord.  Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praises in the assembly of the faithful.

Psalm 100:2  —  Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Hebrews 10:24-25  —   Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

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O Almighty God, from whom every good prayer cometh, and who pourest out the Spirit of grace on all who desire it; deliver us, when we draw nigh to thee, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind; that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections, we may worship thee in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.
–William Bright (1824-1901)

1977) How to Ruin Your Life in Your Twenties

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By Jonathan Pokluda in a September 5, 2018 blog at:  http://www.desiringgod.org.  Pokluda is the leader of The Porch, and the author of the book Welcome to Adulting.   He and his wife, Monica, live with their three children in Dallas.

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     No one ever plans to ruin his life.  Nobody makes failure a goal, or a New Year’s resolution, or an integral part of his five-year plan.  Kids don’t dream about growing up to be an alcoholic; students don’t go to class to learn how to be bankrupt; brides and grooms don’t go to the altar expecting their marriage to fail.

     But ruined lives do happen — far too often.  And they happen because of the choices we make.  Many of our most influential choices take place when we are relatively young — old enough to be making important decisions, but young enough for those decisions to have disastrous consequences.  In other words, these are choices of young adults.

     How can we avoid making such mistakes?  We can start by listening to God’s wisdom through King Solomon.  Although Solomon faced major challenges later in his life because he stopped taking his own advice, he was one of the wisest men who ever lived, and God has preserved some of his best counsel in the book of Proverbs.

     Below are seven ways you can ruin your life while still in your twenties — based on the opposite of Solomon’s counsel — along with a resolution for what to do instead.

  1. Do whatever you want.

     This was the biggest lie I believed in my twenties.  I thought I could do what I wanted and get away with it.  I thought, I’m young, and I’m not hurting anyone.  But I’ve since learned otherwise.

     Right now, you are in the process of becoming what you will be one day. You are preparing either to be a great spouse, parent, employee, and friend, or to be the opposite of that. Everything you do now will lead you down one of those paths.

Proverbs 14:15  —  The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.

Resolution: Do what God would have you do.

  1. Live outside your means.

     When you spend more than you can afford, you still have to pay for it — plus interest.  By living “the good life” now, you ensure you’ll be living the bad life of debt payments, downsizing, and financial worries in your future decades.  Many people today are still paying for experiences that happened many years ago, long after the “instant gratification” has been forgotten.

Proverbs 22:7  —  The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

Resolution: Live below your means.

  1. Feed an addiction.

      Whether it is alcohol, money, drugs, pornography, shopping, or another attraction, most people have an addiction of some kind.  These addictions bring death: either literal death, or death to relationships, freedom, and joy.

     How do addictions happen?  You feed them.  When you feed something, it grows.  The more you feed an addiction, the stronger it grows, and the harder it is to stop.  Wisdom is stopping now, not later.    It only gets harder and harder after each “one last time.”

Proverbs 11:6 —  The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust.

Resolution: Starve your addictions.

  1. Run with fools.

     Fact: you are becoming, in some real sense, who you hang around.  It’s been said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.  You do what they do (because you’re doing it together), you pick up on their ideas and beliefs, and you even learn their mannerisms and language.

     So, if you hang around fools, you will become one.  But if you hang around wise people, who are committed to following Christ and to making a difference with their lives, then you’ll become wise.

Proverbs 13:20  —  Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Resolution: Walk with the wise.

  1. Believe this life is all about you.

     You are one of nearly 7.6 billion people alive currently, and though you are special, so is each of the other 7,600,000,000 people in the world — and the billions and billions who have come before but are now long dead and forgotten.  You are not the star of this show.  You have a cameo that very few people will see and that will be forgotten as soon as the screen changes.

     People who become the biggest reality in their world are dysfunctional.  They always end up either disappointed or delusional.  And when they leave this life, their world disappears; they don’t actually leave any deep impact.  If you want to be important and make a difference, live for God and serve others with your life.  Jesus was our greatest example of this.  He served us by willingly dying for our sins on the cross.  The most powerful person who has ever lived used his power to serve.  And by dying, he rescued us from sin and bought the power we need to serve others with our life.

Proverbs 16:18  —  Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Resolution: Serve others with your life.

  1. Live for immediate gratification.

     Almost nothing truly worthwhile comes quickly.  It takes time and discipline to become an Olympic athlete (or to simply get in shape), to get a degree, to become a CPA, or to become a good husband or wife.  And many of the things you truly want long term can be derailed by indulging yourself in the moment.  Do you want an amazing marriage, or just one amazing night?  Do you want to retire in 36 years, or drive a luxury car for the next 36 months?  In each case, choosing the latter makes it more difficult (or impossible) to have the former.

Proverbs 21:20  —  Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.

Resolution: Hold out for God’s best.

  1. Avoid accountability.

     We all have the tendency to screw up, or be blind to our own failings, or convince ourselves that we can change on our own, even though it’s never worked in the past.  That’s why God created us to live in community with others: so we can encourage each other, point out blind spots, and have help in times of weakness.

     Are you running to community and accountability, or running away from it?  The reason people avoid accountability is that they don’t want to be corrected, even though that means they will continue to do what is ruining their life.  If you really want to change, and really want to put God first every day, then do one simple thing as a first step: find Christ-centered community.

Proverbs 12:1  —  Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Resolution: Do not do any of this alone.

Who You Become Tomorrow

      People don’t resolve to ruin their lives.  We hope to be great employees or business owners.  We hope to be great moms, dads, husbands, or wives.  We hope to be successful and contribute to society.  We hope to be faithful in our walk with Jesus.  But all faithful walks start with small faithful steps.  Great mature adults are created through the faithfulness of young adults.  You are becoming something, and the resolutions you make and keep today will shape who you become tomorrow.

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Lord, give me the help and guidance I need to practice these virtues in all my actions in today.  For those ways I succeed in doing these things, I will give you thanks.  For those many times I fail, I will seek your grace.  When the day is done, I will rest in your peace, and tomorrow morning I will recommit myself to the same choices.

–Max Lucado (adapted)

1976) Parachute Packing

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Charlie Plumb  (1942- )

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     Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam.  After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile.  Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands.  He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison.  He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience.

     One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb!  You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk.  You were shot down!”

     “How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.

     “I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

     Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.

     The man pumped his hand and said, “I guess it worked!”

     Plumb assured him, “It sure did.  If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.”

     Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man.  Plumb says, “I kept wondering what he had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat; a bib in the back; and bell-bottom trousers.  I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.”  Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

     Now, Plumb asks his audience, “Who’s packing your parachute?”  Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day.  He also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory – he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute.  He called on all these supports before reaching safety.

     Sometimes in the daily challenges that life gives us, we miss what is really important.  We may fail to say hello, please, or thank you, congratulate someone on something wonderful that has happened to them, give a compliment, or just do something nice for no reason.  As you go through this week, this month, this year, recognize people who pack your parachutes.

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I Thessalonians 1:2-3  —  We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.  We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

I Thessalonians 5:11  —  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Galatians 5:13  —  You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Galatians 6:2  —  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

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This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.  —Book of Common Prayer

1975) Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight

Acts 15:36-39  —  After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.”  Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work.  Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.

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     Paul and Barnabas had been set aside for the ministry of the Gospel among the Gentiles and had traveled together through many areas and announced the Gospel.  Yet Luke testified that there came such a sharp disagreement between them that they parted company.  Here there was a fault either in Paul or in Barnabas or in both.  It must have been a very sharp disagreement to separate such close companions, and this is what the text suggests.  Such examples are written for our comfort.  For it is a great comfort for us to hear that even such great saints sin.
     Samson, David and many other celebrated leaders who were full of the Holy Spirit fell in huge sins.  Such errors and sins of the saints are set forth in order that those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort and that those who are proud may be afraid.  No one has ever fallen so grievously as to not have stood up again.  On the other hand, no one has such a sure footing that he or she cannot fall.  If Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he stood up again, so can I.

–Martin Luther

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Japanese proverb

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I Corinthians 10:11-12  —  These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us…  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

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

–Ancient Jesus Prayer

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1974) Gospel 101

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By Randy Alcorn at:  http://www.epm.org

     The problem of how we could possibly be reconciled with a God who hates evil is the greatest problem of history.  Before we can see God in Heaven, something must radically change.  This calls for no less than the greatest solution ever devised.

     Here is what we need to know:

1. “God created mankind in his own image…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:2731).

God made human beings with personal and relational qualities like His own (Genesis 1:26) and desired to have a relationship with them.  But something went terribly wrong.  When Adam and Eve chose to follow Satan’s advice in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), sin poisoned the world and now we are all born with the desire to do things our own way, not God’s.

2. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Our sins against a good and holy God have distanced us from Him (see Isaiah 59:2).  God “cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:12).  Through sin we forfeit a relationship with God, and along with it our happiness.   The result of all this is death.  Spiritual death is separation from God in a very real place called Hell.  Physical death marks the end of our opportunity to enter into a relationship with God and avoid eternal condemnation (Hebrews 9:27).

3. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

There is absolutely nothing we can do to restore ourselves to God.  He is holy, we are not.  But God loved us so much He sent us His Son Jesus, fully God and fully man, to deliver us from death and give us life (John 3:16).   “God demonstrates His own love toward us…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus went to the cross to pay the price for our sins.  He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  When Jesus died for us, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  The Greek word translated “it is finished” was written across certificates of debt when they were canceled.  It meant “paid in full.”  Jesus then rose from the grave, conquering sin and death (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

4. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

God’s greatest gift is a restored relationship with Himself, delivering us from Hell and granting us entry into Heaven (John 3:36).  This gift depends not on our merit but solely on Christ’s work of grace for us on the cross (see Titus 3:5).  He is the one and only way to God.  He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

5. “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

To be right with God, we must admit our sinful hearts and actions, and ask God’s forgiveness.  If we do, He graciously promises full forgiveness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  Then we are to affirm to others that the resurrected Jesus is our Lord.

6. “Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

The life we long for is freely offered to us in Christ.  We can believe His promise and call on Him to save us, humbly accepting His gift of eternal life: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).  God’s Holy Spirit indwells us and helps us obey Him (see 2 Timothy 1:14).

The gospel is called the “good news” (Isaiah 52:7).  Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  God offers us in Christ the life and happiness we crave and He wants us to enjoy forever.  

Here’s a prayer that may help you affirm your faith in Jesus.  There’s no magic in just saying the words, but they may help you genuinely express to God what’s in your heart:

God, I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price for all my sins.  I believe Jesus conquered sin and death through His resurrection from the dead.  To the degree I find any of this difficult to believe, I ask that you work in my heart and mind to overcome my unbelief.  Help me to trust what the Bible says—that you, Jesus, are the God-man who came to rescue me from sin and death and to restore me to the Father.

I am sorry for and want to repent of my sins, including my self-centeredness.  I confess my sins, realizing I’m not yet aware of all of them, but I ask you to make me more aware.  With your strength I want to turn away from doing wrong, and give up every part of my life that doesn’t please you—not just my actions but my attitudes.  I want to experience the joy of being a new person and living a new life.  I surrender myself to you.

I gratefully receive your forgiveness and ask you to be my Savior and Lord and King.  Please come to indwell me and empower me to live a new life.  Fill me with your love.  Help me to learn from your Word and your followers how to live as a transformed person who loves and forgives others as you love and forgive me.  Thank you.

I ask all these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Once you’ve accepted Christ as your Savior, one of the most important things you need to do is become part of a family of Christians called a church.  A good church will teach God’s Word and provide love, help, and support.  If you have further questions about Jesus, you can find answers there. Seek out people who know God’s Word and can help you grow in your relationship with Jesus.  Read the Bible, pray, share your faith, and gather regularly with God’s people. “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:13).

1973) Lost and Found (2/2)

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          (…continued)  Other than that all-important need to follow Jesus, I can think of no other time in my adult life that I was so totally dependent on following another person as I was down in the depths of that cave.  I have followed people in traffic, got separated, and then after some inconvenience gotten back together (pre-GPS days).  I have followed the financial advice of others, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but the end result has never been life-threatening.  I have been given advice by doctors, but again, it has never been in life or death situations.  

            But in that cave that day, my life depended on following that guide.  A wrong turn into an unfamiliar part of the cave, and we could have lost our way, going ever deeper in under the earth.  That is probably how that coach and soccer team got two and a half miles away from the entrance.  Even the far smaller cave I explored was big enough to wander around in endlessly until the helmet light would go out and one starved to death or fell down some drop-off and got wedged in a crevice.  Everything depended on being able to trust in and follow our guide.

            There are times in life when you have to trust someone and obey them no matter what.  In that cave, our group had to obey that guide.  Perhaps you have faced medical decisions where you had to trust in and follow the advice of your doctor, and it was a matter of life and death.  

            But there is nothing in all of life like the decision to trust in and follow and obey Jesus.  There is no other decision that has such eternal consequences.  There is no one else to follow that can lead us beyond the limits of this life.  And there is no one to follow who can be more trusted and more reliable in teaching us how to live our lives right now.  In the cave, I had to be able to obey the guide to get back out to the light of day.  In life, we need to obey Jesus, the Creator of life, in order to know how to get along with each other, how to value the right things, how to make the right choices, and how to have a firm and solid hope for the future.

            One time in the cave we said to the guide, “That passage looks interesting.  Can we crawl through and go that way?”

     “Oh no,” he said, “that space looks big enough, but it is like the funneled entrance to a rodent trap.  You can crawl in, but if you get stuck, you can’t very easily back out.”  No one wanted that to happen, so we did not challenge his authority or wisdom.  

            God’s Word gives us many similar cautions and warnings and commands that when heeded, leads to the peace and well-being he intended for us.  Another path might look really good, and our whole society and everyone around you might be going in that direction.  But when God’s wisdom and authority are not heeded and obeyed, and we go our own way, we can get ourselves into all kinds of troubles from which we cannot easily escape.  Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that might seem right to a person, but in the end, it is the way to death.”

            This is the challenging part.  Following Jesus may not always produce immediately visible benefits, and not following or obeying Jesus may not get one into trouble right away.  Oftentimes, it may look like it doesn’t make any difference at all what you do.  But here my cave exploring experience can again be instructive.  If I would have chosen to not follow the guide, I would not have been in trouble right away.  It wasn’t at all hard to go snooping around in that cave.  The helmet light was good and there was plenty of room to move around most of the time.  It would have been great fun to just go around and do what I wanted to do, without always listening to the guide and without having to wait for the slow ones in the group.  I am sure I could have seen and experienced much more that day if I would have been on my own.

            But eventually I would have been lost and in big trouble.  On our own, in caves and in life, we can get only so far.  When I was in that cave, there was no doubt in my mind that I would follow that guide; and in life it is wise to not only believe in Jesus, but also to obey Him.

            After the boys in the cave were discovered, and before the actual rescue began, the boys had to be taught what to do on their long and dangerous journey out of the cave.  They had to be well trained, trust their guides, stay calm, and do exactly as they were told—and even then, they would not necessarily survive.  To even attempt to do anything their own way, or to even lose faith in their guides and panic, would most certainly mean death.  There was no margin of error.

            Life itself is a dangerous journey through unknown territory.  All kinds of people pay no attention to the Guide and lose their way and get in all kinds of trouble.  “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus said; and he said, “Follow me.

            Follow Jesus.  He shows us the way out of the darkness.  Just let him lead the way.

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Isaiah 9:2  —  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

John 8:12  —  When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Matthew 16:24  —   Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

James 1:22  —  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.

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Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day.

–From the 1971 musical Godspell,

Based on a prayer by Richard of Chichester  (1197-1253)

1972) Lost and Found (1/2)

            I don’t think I will ever become a news junkie.  I have a retired friend who is, and I do not know how he can stand it.  He is a good guy, but he spends a large portion of every day and night watching round the clock news; and that would drive me crazy.  So much of it is so depressing, I can’t do anything about any of it, and it is all so politicized.

            However, I, along with most of the other six billion people on planet earth, were captivated for almost three weeks this past summer by the news of those boys trapped in a cave in Thailand.  What a story that was!  They were lost for nine days, and it seemed like they would be most certainly found dead, if ever found at all.  Then they were found, but they were so far into the cave, and the rescue was so complex, that once again, it looked hopeless.  For the next week we heard about all the problems of the rescue, the thousands of people involved, the anxious families, the added problems of more rain and flooding, and the danger that even the rescuers faced, with one of them even losing his life.  And then there was the rescue:  two and a half miles through a dark cave, some of it under muddy, fast flowing water, and, some of it through narrow passageways.  And then, two by two, they all made it out alive, much to the surprise of even the most optimistic experts.  The whole story made for fascinating news; and for once, without a political agenda.  It was just a matter of the whole world listening, hoping for the same thing, and praying for a miracle.

            I was in a cave like that once, and from what I remember about caves, I was not hopeful for their rescue.  When I was in college I took a weekend mini-course in cave exploring.  I had been on some commercial tours of famous large caves, but this was to be nothing at all like that.  We were told to dress for cool and damp conditions, and to bring a canteen and some candy bars.  We would be given a miner’s helmet with a light in front.  

            To get to the cave we took some country roads outside of Spring Valley, Minnesota, parked by what looked like a normal pasture, and climbed the fence.  We walked a short distance until the guide told us to stop.  He then pointed to a little rabbit hole in the side of a hill that no one else had yet noticed, and said, “Well, here we are.  Crawl in.”  

            We thought he was joking, but he insisted; so we all wormed our way in.  We crawled on our bellies through wet dirt and clay for about ten feet, and then things gradually opened up.  Soon, we were standing and walking, and off we were on an all-day adventure under the earth.  There was not the striking beauty of commercial caves with underground lakes and waterfalls, huge stalactite and stalagmite formations, and colored lighting.  There was a little bit of water here and there, and a few interesting formations, but mostly just endless rock and dirt passageways going this way and that way, up and down.  Sometimes we were crawling on our bellies through narrow passageways, and other times we would find ourselves in large underground rooms as big as a house.  It was a fascinating day, with every turn opening up something new.

            However, I do remember being a bit uneasy sometimes during the day.  Every step and every turn took us farther away from that rabbit-hole entrance.  I had then the ‘happy-go-lucky-why-worry-about-anything’ optimism of youth, and for the most part I was having the time of my life.  But every once in a while it would occur to me that I was putting a great deal of faith in our guide, a young man that I had just met and knew nothing about.  For all I knew, he was an over-confident, irresponsible teacher’s assistant, unworthy of anyone’s trust.  

            It would have been very easy to get lost in that underground maze.  The passages we took would branch off in all directions, there were numerous forks along the way, and we were gone for a very long time.  Only later did it occur to me how much my life depended on the wisdom, knowledge, and common sense of our guide.  He said he had been in that cave many times before and he knew it well, and we chose to believe him, and, to believe in him.  We had to, or it would have been foolish to enter the cave and go in as far as we did.  Fortunately, he turned out to be a competent, cautious, and safe guide. 

            But for that reason, I wondered about the coach who led the boys into the cave.  The last I heard, he was much loved in his community, and they do not want to sue him or see him punished.  But entering that cave with those boys was a reckless thing to do.  It is very hard to find your way around in, and out of, a cave unless you are very familiar with it.

            In the Old Testament, Isaiah 9:2 says this:  “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”  There is no darkness like the darkness of a cave.  One time when we were resting, our guide had us turn off all of our helmet-lights and be completely still and quiet.  The darkness, the silence, and the opportunity to think about where we were made me a bit nervous.  I was happy to get the lights back on, hear everybody laughing and talking again, and then get moving again.  It was too dark, too quiet, and I was reminded of the fact that I had no idea where I was or how to get out.

            It was a dark time in Israel when Isaiah was called on to speak.  The people were lost and they did not know where they should turn or how they could get out of the mess they were in.  Life can sometimes get that way.  To the ancient Israelites, or to anyone in that situation, Isaiah says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…  There will be no more gloom for those who are in distress.”  

            What was that light?  Centuries later the promise of that light would be fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.  Jesus would refer to himself as the ‘Light of the World,’ and then he would say to people “Come, and follow me.”  (continued…)

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1971) Not Our Home

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From C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain:

     The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in.  The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God; whereas, a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath, or a football game, have no such tendency.  Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

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Hebrews 11:13-16 — 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.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country– a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Revelation 21:3-4 — I heard a loud voice shout from the throne: “God’s home is now with his people.  He will live with them, and they will be his own.  Yes, God will make his home among his people.  He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain.  These things of the past are gone forever.”

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

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O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world lies hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.  Then in thy mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.  Amen.

–Cardinal John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

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