1008) The Book

By Al Rogness, from The Word for Every Day, 1981, Augsburg Publishing House, page 234.

     The Christian church really has but one book.  Of course thousands of books have been written about the faith, but all draw from one book, the Bible.  The Bible is the basis for our faith.

     We who are Christians believe that the Bible is different from all other books.  It is not an encyclopedia where you can look up information about birds or stars.  The whole world of chemistry and biology, for instance, is not in this book.  God gives us this kind of knowledge largely through studies in science.

     The Bible is God’s book, and God reveals himself in it.  He does not tell us everything about himself in this book, but he does tell us all that we need to know about him.  It is an old book.  The last parts were written at least 1800 years ago.  If you’re studying aeronautics, you certainly will not go to the Bible.  But for knowledge about God, an old book may be better than a new one.  Plato’s dialogues and Shakespeare’s plays are old too, but they remain the best of their kind in every university of the land.  And the Bible, an old book to be sure, is in a class by itself.  It is the Word of God.

     The strange thing about the Bible is that God uses it as a door through which he comes to us.  It is almost as if he leaps out of the pages to enter our hearts.  Or, think of the Bible as a lake.  You sit on the bank fishing for knowledge about God.  Suddenly God himself— not knowledge about him— takes the hook and pulls you in.  God catches you.

     By far the most important fact about the Bible is that Jesus Christ is in it.  Luther said that the Bible is like a cradle holding Jesus.  If you are starting from scratch to read the Bible, you should probably first read the four Gospels, the accounts of Jesus’ life and sayings.  Something remarkable then will happen; you find that Jesus is more than the total of what he said and did.  Jesus himself becomes the Word.  You not only learn about God through him.  You know God and are brought to him through Jesus.

     It is when we do more than hurry through a few verses— as we frequently do— and begin living with and loving certain parts of the book, it is then that it becomes alive for us, and we begin to know it as a great treasure.

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II Timothy 3:16-17  —  All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

John 1:1-5…14…16-18  —  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…  From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.  The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Romans 10:17  —  So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

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Heavenly Father, we pray that you so nurture us in your Word that our lives may please you, and that other people may be attracted to you by our godliness.  May your commands and promises be written into our hearts, and constantly kept in our minds.  May your Word be for us far more precious than our own life and whatever else we cherish on earth.  Help us to live and act accordingly.  Amen.

–Martin Luther

729) Cleo and John (part two of two)

     (…continued)  Six years later, Cleo’s husband John died.  John was a believer, but wasn’t one to talk much about his faith.  He wasn’t like Cleo.  He didn’t have anything picked out for his funeral, and we did not have long discussions about God’s love and promises.  He and Cleo went to church together, he sat quietly as Cleo read the daily devotions, and he listened sadly as Cleo told me what she wanted for her funeral.  But he never said anything.  Everyone knew this was going to be a lot harder for John than for Cleo, but John never said that.  He never said anything about faith or what he was feeling.  He could talk all day about his old red pickup, or about his days as a foot soldier in World War II, or about the 25 cats out at the old farm place they still owned.  He believed in Jesus, but his faith wasn’t something he felt comfortable talking about.

     In his later years, John had Alzheimer’s disease and was forgetting everything that happened more than ten minutes ago.  I would visit him in the nursing home, and talk to him about Cleo and the old red pickup and the farm and his cats.  Sometimes he would smile or would make a comment that showed he was remembering something, but usually he was quiet.  Then I would read from the Bible and say a prayer.  He would listen closely, but as always, he would say nothing.  I would read to him all the most familiar verses, but his memory was gone, so no matter what I read, it was probably like he was hearing it for the first time.

     Then one day, out of nowhere, John said something about the Bible.  He had again been hearing the old familiar verses, especially the ones about eternal life in heaven and seeing our loved ones again.  Perhaps it made him think about Cleo.  All of a sudden, his eyes brightened, the wonder of those great old promises registered one last time, and he said, “You know, that is a really good book you have there.”

     “Yes, John,” I said, “it sure is.”  It was just a simple statement, but it struck me in an unforgettable way.  Jesus died for us, and then he rose again from the dead, and he said that if we believe in him, we too would rise from the dead and live again with him in heaven.  That is an incredible promise that we should never get used to or take for granted.  But we do.  We might believe it or half believe it, but we do take it for granted.  But not John.  There, in that nursing home, living out his last sick and lonely days, he heard that promise as if it were brand new, and it thrilled him.  John was a low-key, quiet guy, who never got very excited about anything.  But that day, something in those Bible verses got him excited.

      This are many Bible verses that are worth getting excited about.  Our fragile and temporary bodies will wear out and die.  We know that.  But someday, long after the worms or the crematorium destroy every last cell; maybe even long after the sun burns out and the earth freezes over; I don’t know when, but someday, in God’s own good time, we will get a new body and we will live again.  And the book that tells us all about that, is, like John said that day, ‘a really good book.’

     Nowhere else is such a promise given, and then backed up by one who himself rose from the dead.  Nowhere else is such a hope given, a hope that can keep someone like Cleo strong and confident, even amidst the ravages of cancer.  Nowhere else is any refuge given from the swift passage of time and the inevitable end of life.

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John 6:66-68  —  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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Eternal God,
whose Son Jesus Christ said,
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid’,
take away our fear of death;
bring us to the place he has gone to prepare for us;
and give us his peace for ever.  Amen.

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529) Losing Almost Everything

     “I hardly had a drink in years,” said a man from New Orleans who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina.  “But right after the hurricane hit, I started drinking again.  Now, if I stop drinking, the pain becomes so great it is unbearable.  I am scared because I don’t have any identity anymore.”  He feels like everything that made him who he once was is now gone forever.

     Life had been difficult enough already for many of the poorer residents of that city, but folks had their friendships, their old neighborhoods and hangouts, and the never-ending music.  And even though the music returned, many neighborhoods became ghost towns, and those that went back found little left of their old life.

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer was also a man who lost everything.  Over the last 12 years of his life, the Nazis took away from him everything that gave him his identity.  Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and author.  In 1933, when Bonhoeffer was only 27, Hitler came to power.  The Nazis took away Bonhoeffer’s German homeland, turning it into something unrecognizable.  Bonhoeffer spoke out against Hitler, and was from then on under suspicion.  His freedom to speak and move around was, from then on, severely restricted.  For a few months, he escaped to the freedom and safety of the United States, but found he could not, in good conscience, stay there.  He went back to join the church’s resistance to Hitler and, to teach in an underground seminary.  When that seminary was discovered and closed, Bonhoeffer lost his place of ministry, but continued to do what he could.  Finally, he was arrested and lost his freedom, spending the last two and a half years of his life in prison.  There he was treated well at first.  He was even brought books and papers by guards who liked him.  But after a while, that too was taken away, and he had nothing left but his life– and even that was always under a cloud.  He knew that at any time, the evidence that would lead to his execution may be discovered.  That evidence was found, and he was hung in April of 1945 at the age of 39– thus, finally losing almost everything to the Nazis.

     But there was one thing Bonhoeffer never lost, and that was his hope.  His hope was in the faith he had in God, and in that he found his confidence and identity.  And with that, he became a pillar of strength to all in the prison, even to many of the guards, who also had much to fear in that war and from the Nazis.  Survivors of the prison camp spoke of his cheerfulness, his confidence, and his inner strength.  And he got all of that from his faith which was nurtured and sustained by his daily reading of God’s Word.

     In the last year of his life, Bonhoeffer wrote a poem entitled ‘Who Am I?’ which dealt with this very question of identity.  He, like the man from New Orleans, was asking what is left of a person after everything is taken away.  “Who am I?” he wrote.  “They often tell me that I step from my cell calmly, cheerfully, firmly– like a squire from his country-house…  Who am I?  They often tell me that I talk to my guards freely and friendly and clearly, as though I am the one in command.  Who am I?  They also tell me that I bear the days of misfortune with confidence and even smiles, like one accustomed to winning.”  But then he writes, “Am I really all that which other men tell of?  Or am I only what I know of myself inside, restless and longing and sick, struggling and trembling with fear and with anger, weary of worry over loved ones, faint and doubtful even at my prayers…”  And then he asks again, “Who am I?  One or the other?  One this day and the other the next?  Am I both at once, or what?”  Finally, he concludes the poem saying, “Who am I?  These lonely questions of mine mock me.  But whoever I am, you know, Oh God, I belong to you.”

     In that last line is revealed the source of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s strength that inspired everyone around him.  He knew he belonged to God.  That was his faith, and his faith kept him strong.  Even with everything else taken away, he still had God’s Word, which he first was able to read, and then when all books were taken away, was, until the end, kept safely in his memory.  In his last letter home, just before Christmas of 1944, he wrote these words:  “You must not think I am unhappy.  What is happiness and unhappiness?  It depends so little on circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person.”  In his last spoken words, just before he was hung, he said:  “This is the end for me, but it is also my beginning.”

     In that last letter home, Bonhoeffer said a little more about his source of strength.  He wrote, “In solitude, the soul develops powers which we can hardly know in everyday life.  Therefore, I have not felt lonely or abandoned…  Prayers and words from the Bible gain life and reality as never before.  It becomes like a great invisible sphere in which one lives and in whose reality there is no doubt.”  Bonhoeffer, like the man from New Orleans, had lost everything.  But Bonhoffer was able to remain strong because his identity was in God’s Word, and that gave him a firm foundation that could withstand any storm.

     The Bible is what gives us identity and strength and confidence and faith and hope, even if else is taken away; and, as we know, everything will one day be taken away.  Even then, the Bible has a Word for us that goes far beyond all we know or have or attain in this brief life.   When everything else is lost, like for Deitrich Bonhoffer, or the man in New Orleans, or a woman living her last days in the nursing home, no longer able to see or hear or feed herself, even when nothing else is left, this Word still speaks a word of hope and promise.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer  (1906-1945)

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Isaiah 43:1-2a  —  But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:  “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

Romans 14:8  —  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

John 20:30-31  —  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Isaiah 7:9b  —  If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.

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Eternal God, the refuge of all your children,

in our weakness you are our strength,

in our darkness our light,

in our sorrow our comfort and peace.  

May we always live in your presence,

and serve you in our daily lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–St. Boniface  (675?-754),  “Apostle to the Germans”

495) Read the Instructions

     It is the night before Christmas, 2:00 in the morning and you are tired.  But you are still up, sitting by the Christmas tree, trying to figure out how to assemble the Barbie and Ken Deluxe Doll House.  Your daughter has been asking for that for weeks, and in just a few hours she’ll be awake.  And she will be all excited and you are excited for her.  You are anxious to see the look on her face when there it is, what she always wanted, her very own Barbie and Ken Deluxe Doll House.  But you know that it would not be at all exciting for her to see what is there on the floor now– just a pile of parts and pieces.  You had no idea that when it said ‘some assembly required’ that the assembly would be so difficult.  And now, there you sit.  And what is it has your full, undivided attention and focus?  It is that little book called the assembly manual.  You should have looked at the instructions first, of course, and you didn’t.  But you are looking now.  With the greatest care and devotion and attention you are reading intensely every line and every word.  You don’t want to miss a thing.  You have to get it just right, or you will not be ready in time.
     That is how you should read the Bible.  That little illustration is gives an accurate portrayal of all of life.  There are some things in life that you just have to know in order to put it all together, and all that information is found in one book.  You have only a limited amount of time.  There is a deadline fast approaching, and by then you must be ready.  The Bible tells you how to be ready.  You should want to know what is in that book.  The stakes are much higher than a Barbie and Ken Deluxe Doll House on Christmas Day.  What you know and believe, or don’t know and don’t believe, will have eternal consequences.  Your reading of the Bible should be just as intense and careful as a doll house assembly manual.  Does your Bible get such careful attention?
    It is very easy to make people feel guilty about not reading Bible.  Everyone knows they should read it, but very few do with any kind of depth or consistency.  So it is easy to point to what is wrong.   What is not as easy is providing a way to help someone read that big, often difficult book.  There are many ways to do that.  These EmailMeditations provide just one simple way.  Reading these daily meditations gives you the opportunity to read at least three Bible verses each day in the context of a devotional reading and prayer.  This is only a minimal amount of attention to give so important a book, but it is more attention than it receives from most people, and perhaps more than you would otherwise be giving to the Bible.  Perhaps not every day’s devotional reading will appeal to you, but you will at least read a little bit of God’s Word each day, and that will remind you of eternity, and, keep you closer to that God who holds you eternal destiny in his hands.
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 Psalm 119:104-105  —  I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.  Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.
 
2 Timothy 3:13-17  —   …Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
John 20:30-31  —  Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
1 John 5:13  —  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
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 Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
Book of Common Prayer
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O Lord God, Heavenly Father, we beseech thee so to guide us by thy Holy Spirit, that we hear and receive thy Holy Word with our whole heart, in order that through thy Word we may learn to place all our trust and hope in Jesus; and following him, be led safely through all evil, until by thy grace, we come to everlasting life; through the same Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord.  Amen.
United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917

462) A Message in a Bottle

      In an essay entitled “Message in a Bottle,” Walker Percy asks the reader to imagine a group of people stranded on an island in the middle of the ocean (this simple meditation is based very loosely on that scholarly essay).  The island is beautiful, the weather is great, and there is plenty of food and water; but it is not home, and all those folks stranded there would like to get home.  But there is only one person out of all of them who is serious about really doing anything to help make that happen.  Let’s call him John.

     Right from the beginning when they were stranded after a shipwreck, John was telling everyone that they must make some preparations to help them be seen and get rescued.  “We must constantly be on the watch for passing ships, or for airplanes, and then we must be ready to signal them,” he would say.  “We must build a great pile of wood that we can light at any time, and with a huge fire call attention to ourselves.”  The others helped John build the wood pile, and for a while, they took turns keeping watch.  But as time went on and no one ever saw anything, most of them gave up hope of ever being discovered.  John, however, never gave up hope, and spent every spare moment watching the sky and the horizon for any sign of a plane or a ship.

     One day, while on the beach, John made an amazing discovery.  A glass bottle had washed ashore, and in the tightly corked bottle there was a message.  John, filled with hope, quickly opened the bottle and read the message.  It said, “The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in six games.”  What a strange message, he thought.  Where did it come from?  Does this mean someone knows that we are here?  And if so, why would they write such a trivial message?  And most importantly, would they write again?  

     John then looked around, and saw several more bottles on the beach.  With great excitement, he collected the bottles and read the messages– and then he saw still more bottles and more messages, all dated, and sent over a period of several months.  He read them all, and what a strange assortment of messages it was.  Here are a few:  “Congress in gridlock over budget battle…  Meryl Streep is nominated for yet another Academy Award…   Actor Peter O‘Toole dies at the age of 81…  Stock market gains 150 points in a single day…  Stock market drops dramatically…  Canada again wins Olympic Gold in hockey…  Last winter was one of the coldest on record…”  And so on.

     What strange messages, he thought.  Why would anyone even bother to send such an assortment of useless information?  He said to himself, “I don’t care about Academy Awards or sports or politics or the stock market.  I want to get off this island.”  In disgust, he almost threw all the messages back into the ocean– but then John saw one more bottle.  He first ignored it, thinking it was probably just more of the same, but out of curiosity he opened it and read the message.  And this one was different.  It said… “I know you are out there somewhere, and I will come to rescue you.  Build a fire and keep it going.  I will be leaving soon to try and find you.  Remember, keep the fire going so I can spot you.  It is a big ocean and I have only a vague idea where you are.”  This note was dated quite recently, and it was just the kind of message John had been hoping to find.  This was what he had been waiting for ever since they were stranded on that island.

     John ran back to tell the others.  He started to describe how it all happened; how he first found those useless messages, a few of which he read and then tossed, and then he found that one all-important message.  “Let’s get to work,” he said, “we must light the fire now, and we must gather more wood to keep it burning.  Someone might already be out there looking for us.”  But then to his astonishment, he saw that no one was listening to what he was saying.  They were all running after the useless messages, those he just tossed to the wind.  “What was that one about Meryl Streep?,” one said.  “What were the dates on those messages about her stock market,” and, “Were there any about last year’s Super Bowl?,” said others.  “Did you see any about Kim Kardashian?” asked another, “I have been dying to know if she ever got back together with Kris Humphries.”

     John could not believe what he was hearing.  They were all interested in only the useless messages, and they were ignoring the one and only message that offered any hope at all.  “Who cares who won the Super Bowl?,” John shouted at them,  “Who cares about Kim Kardashian?  We have a chance to get off this island.  We have received a message from across the sea, from home, from the place we hope to return to, and we must do as it says and build a fire.”  But no one was listening to him.  Perhaps they did not believe the message, or perhaps they had given up hope.  He didn’t know.  All he knew is that they were ignoring the best hope they ever had of being saved.  He could not prove to them that the message was true and that they would be rescued.  But it was certainly worth doing all they could to respond in whatever way they could to what they did know.  There was no other hope…

     This story is a parable on modern life.  Like the many messages floating in from the sea, we have on our radios, TVs, smart phones, and computers an endless flow of information and entertainment, and the opportunity to read or watch or hear whatever we want all day long.  But the problem is we become more and more obsessed with the trivial, and less and less familiar with what is most important.  People are up to date on every Hollywood scandal, or know every detail about the Minnesota Vikings, but cannot name even half of the ten commandments, nor can they quite remember what Good Friday and Easter is all about.  And they pay little attention to what might happen after the moment of death, toward which we are all racing, nor do they pay any attention to what preparations might have to be made for when that time comes.

     Most people have somewhere in their house a copy of the Holy Bible.  Like the messages in the bottles, these are words from another place.  Also, like the messages in the bottles, these are words from Someone who can rescue us from the troubles and sadness and shortness of this life.  Here is just one verse from that Bible, Romans 6:23:  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In that one verse is described our desperate situation, and, our hope for rescue.  We are sinners, it says, and that isn’t only a harsh judgment coming in from outside of us.  We feel the misery of our sinfulness in our own heart and soul.  Don’t you ever get wearied by troubled relationships, tired of making mistakes, of saying the wrong thing; tired of forgetting to be kind and understanding; tired of yielding to temptation, and tired of not being the sort of person you know you should be and want to be.  That is sin, and the wages of sin is death, says the verse.  And you don’t even need the Bible to tell you about death.  We all know that our little journey here is this earth is brief, and goes by way to fast, and then it is over.  But, says the second half of the verse, there can be more.  There is in fact a whole eternity to be had, as the gift of God, in Christ Jesus, for all who will believe in Him.  This is worth hearing about, and believing in, and paying attention to.

     In the New Testament book of Revelations there is a message similar to that message from across the sea, in fact, it also was given to a man named John.  This message is from across the ages,-– it is a revelation, like the name of the book says, a vision, from the distant future.  And it also is from a place where we all want to go.  We don’t want to just be obliterated into dust and ashes when we die, we would like to go on to a better place.  And this vision in Revelation is from a better place– a place beyond the grave, where God will live with us, a place where, as it says in chapter 21, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more death or grief or crying or pain.  If there were such a place, and Christians believe there is, would we not long for it even more than one stranded on an island would hope for a return home?  This message that John received from across the ages, and which he brings to us, is the most important message we could ever receive.

     But does this message get the attention it deserves?  Or is there for so many people, a much deeper interest in other things, things of infinitely less value?  Of course, there can be a legitimate, lesser interest in sports or politics or the stock market– but if our interest in those kind of secondary issues begins to leave no time for or room for any attention to be paid for things of eternal value, then we are most surely to be pitied, and like those on the island, will remain lost.

     The messages in the bottles along the seashore gave rise to many unanswered questions:  Where did these messages come from? Who sent them?  Can they really help me?  But even without answers to all the questions, it was most reasonable for John to want to build a fire, to do as he had been told.  In those messages there was a reason for hope, and something well worth putting one faith and effort into.  There had been no other hope, no other communication from across the sea.  Why would one not want to pay closest attention to that message?  Why would the others run after only the most useless information?

     Walker Percy in his essay said (paraphrased), “If I am in the desert dying of thirst, is it good news to know that there is a pile of diamonds just over the next hill?  Of course not.  Good news would be to know that there is a glass of water just over the next hill.  We have to have the wisdom to know what good news is, and a life and death situation changes the value of everything.”

     We live our whole lives in a life and death situation, every minute of every day we live in what the Bible calls ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’  That should change our perspective on the value of everything: what we spend our money on, what we pay attention to, and to what we devote our time and energy.  In an instant all can be taken away; or I should say, as we well know, in some future instant all will be taken away.  But the Apostle John tells us that he saw in his message from across the ages, that even though all will be taken away, all will then be restored, and what will be made new will be better than ever.  This is a message worth paying attention to, and it is to be found only in Jesus Christ.  There is no other offer on the table.  This is a message worth believing in, and trusting in, and honoring and obeying.  For the time will come when it will not matter if Vikings win a Super Bowl, or if the stock market is up or down, or if yet another celebrity marriage is rocked by scandal, or if the Democrats or the Republicans are in charge.  What will matter is that we heard and believed in God’s gift of eternal life, ours by faith in Jesus Christ.

     Pay attention to these messages from the Bible.  For there in that Word of God is offered your only chance to ever get off this dangerous little island we call we call our world, alive.

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Deuteronomy 32:47a  —  They are not just idle words for you— they are your life.

Romans 6:23  —  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Revelation 21:1…3-5  —   Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” … and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

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Let not thy Word, O Lord, become a judgment upon us, that we hear it and do it not, that we know it and love it not, that we believe it and obey it not:  O Thou, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, world without end.  Amen. 

–Thomas a Kempis  (1380?-1471)

329) The Key to the Bible

   Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

     One of the toughest tough guys of all time was Ernest Hemingway.  He was a soldier, adventurer, big-game hunter, and deep-sea fisherman.  Hemingway was also a ladies man, world-class drinker, fearless bar-room brawler, and in his spare time, a writer, and winner of both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature.  When he was just 31 years old he wrote the highly acclaimed novel Farewell to Arms in which appeared one of Hemingway’s best known quotes:

The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong in the broken places.  But those that will not break it kills.  It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.  If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.

     Thirty years later at the age of 61, after a life-time of literally having it all and doing it all, Ernest Hemingway was a broken and despairing man.  One day, while home alone in his Idaho cabin, he loaded his 12-gauge shotgun, put the barrel in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.  

     Ernest Hemingway knew something about brokenness.  When he was young he observed how ‘the world breaks everyone’ and he wrote about it.  When he was old, he took his own life rather than face the all the ‘broken places.’  Hemingway was raised in the church, but very early in life rejected the faith of his youth and never looked back, except in scorn and derision.

     John Piper has said, “The key to the Bible is a broken heart.”  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Life does indeed break us all, as the young Hemingway pointed out, and afterward, many are strong in the broken places.  But the strength is only temporary and we get broken again and again, until finally we come to the biggest break of all when we die.  “The key to the Bible is a broken heart,” said John Piper.  If we allow our broken heart to open us up to the message of the Bible, we can find there the help and strength we need in all our brokenness, in life and in death.

     John Newton was one who was broken by life, and then looked to the Bible for healing.  Before his conversion he done many wicked things, including serving as the captain of a slave ship.  After his conversion he became a minister.  As a parish pastor he would write hymns for his congregation to sing.  One of the hymns he wrote was Amazing Grace in which he described how that grace saved even ‘a wretch like me.’  He was a broken man, but in his brokenness Newton looked to Jesus and was healed.  It is not known who wrote the music for Amazing Grace.  One theory is that it had its roots in Africa, and that Newton heard it sung by the slaves he was transporting across the ocean.  If this is true, then this tune was also an expression of despair and brokenness.

     To hear more of the story of ‘Amazing Grace’ go to:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVcjnNry4do

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

Psalm 119:67…71  —  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your Word…  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

Psalm 51:17  —  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Psalm 147:3  —  (The Lord) heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Matthew 11:28-30  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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Abide with us, O Lord, for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent.  Abide with us, for the days are hastening on, and we hasten with them, and our life is short and transient as a dream.  Abide with us, for we are weak and helpless, and if you do not abide with us, we will perish.  Abide with us, Oh Lord.  Amen.

217) Reading What Has Been Written For Us

      The 1995 movie A Walk in the Clouds begins with scenes of a young married couple separated by war.  He is in Europe fighting with the United States Army in World War II.  She is back home going out with other men.  The film shows him in the thick of the fighting but still faithfully taking the time to write home to his dear wife whenever he can. 

     Finally, the war is over and he comes home to New York.  It is a delightful scene, with hundreds of soldiers walking off the ship to meet their excited loved ones running to meet them.  There is much happiness and joy and laughter.  But no one comes to meet this young man who has seen and survived so much and who wrote so many letters.  He searches all through the crowd, but does not see his wife.  Before long the crowd is gone and he is there alone.  He calls a cab to take him home to his apartment.

     When he opens the door his wife runs to him, wraps her arms around him and welcomes him home.  When they’re done hugging and kissing, he asks her, “Honey, why weren’t you at the ship to meet me?”

     “Well,” she replies, “I did not know you were coming today.”

     “But honey,” he says with disbelief, “I have been writing to you for weeks about my coming home on this day.  How could you not know?  Did you not get any of my letters?”

     “Oh, the letters,” she said.  “Yes, I received lots of letters from you, and they are all right here,” she said, handing him a large box.

     He looked into the box, and again with disbelief he says sadly, “Most of these letters are not even opened.”

     “Yes, I know,” she said, “I read some of them, but it was too depressing to read about the war and all that fighting and how lonely you were; so I just quit reading them.  But I saved every single one.  You sure were faithful about writing.”

     These first ten minutes of the movie set the stage for rest of the story by creating in the moviegoer an affection for the faithful young man and a strong dislike for his unloving and uncaring bride; and this one scene certainly does accomplish that.  It almost overdoes it.  Who could be so thoughtless to not even take the time to read the letters from a loved one away at war?  One would think she would want to read every word over and over again in order to be as close as possible to her loved one who is absent, even if that closeness was only through words on a page.

     For a time God is absent from our sight.  He is indeed with us, now and always, but we cannot see him or hear his voice, no more than that young husband and wife could see each other.  But this separation is not what God intended from the beginning.  Genesis chapters two and three describe Adam and Eve talking with God openly.  But their sin, and then our sin, has led to the separation that now exists.  God has made occasional appearances over the years to folks like Abraham, Moses, and Elijah.  And for 33 years God walked this earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  And someday, as the New Testament tells us, believers will again live in the visible presence of God.  “I will take you to my Father’s house,” said Jesus in John 14.  “God’s home will be with us,” says Revelation 21, “and we will live with him.”  But not yet.  For now, God is absent from our sight and our hearing.

     But God has not left us completely.  He has left us his Word, words on a page (as in a letter) for us to read so that we can keep in touch while we are separated.  And all the most important things that we need to know for life now and for eternal life are there in that Word of God.  Romans 15:4 says these words were written to teach us and to encourage us so that we may have hope.  We have been created by God.  God gives us our every heartbeat and breath, and in a short time from now when we must die, God will be our only hope.  You would certainly think that any messages he would leave to us about himself would be read with great care, over and over again.  You would think that anyone who believed in this God at all would want to know everything about him and what he says about life and death.  You would think that all Christians everywhere would want to read for themselves, every day, that Word of God.

     The young wife in the movie had her reasons for not reading her husband’s letters.  Many people who never read the Bible also have reasons.  The Bible is a big book and it is in many places very hard to understand.  Reading it poses a daunting challenge to even the most devout and determined believer.  Many folks who have made a serious attempt at it have given up in frustration.

     But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it cannot be done.  There are ways one can get into this huge difficult book and get something out of it.  Reading or hearing a little bit at a time is one good method.  These brief Emailmeditations set before you at least three Bible verses each day, a few bits of God’s Word for you.  These words of Scripture, said Paul, are to encourage you so that you may have hope.  And we all need hope, so do not ignore what has been written for us.

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Romans 15:4  —  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

2 Timothy 3:16-17  —  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Romans 10:17  —  Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.

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Almighty, everlasting God, heavenly Father, whose Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our way:  Open and enlighten my mind that I may understand your Word purely, clearly, devoutly, and then, having understood it aright, fashion my life in accord with it, in order that I may never displease you; through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our dear Lord.  Amen.  

–Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558)