1465) A Prayer for Easter and Every Day

By Joshua Rogers at http://www.joshuarogers.com, April 13, 2017

     I was five years old when I walked into my mother’s bedroom and told her I wanted to give my life to Christ.  We got down on our knees beside the bed and I asked Jesus into my heart.  After that, I proudly told everyone that Jesus had saved me; but my pride slowly diminished over the years.

     As I got older, the more I questioned the efficacy of my salvation prayer because, let’s be honest, the five-year-old motives behind it didn’t exactly demonstrate any depth of understanding about what I was doing.

     On the one hand, my parents taught me a lot about the Bible, so by that age, I really had developed a childhood affection for the miracle-working Savior who held little kids in His lap and then died to save them.

     On the other hand, I wanted to be born again because I would get to take the grape juice and cracker during communion at our Baptist Church — not to mention the most important reason of all:  I would avoid going to hell.  These reasons didn’t seem like very good ones for wanting to commit my eternal life to God, so I eventually began to wonder if perhaps I hadn’t actually been saved after all.

     My insecurity about my salvation inspired me to repeatedly redo my salvation prayer, but it never seemed like it was enough.  I wanted something more official.  I needed a prayer that would unquestionably provide my eternal connection to Jesus.  But there was a vignette in the Easter story that provided the security that a prayer for salvation never could.

     As Jesus was hanging there and His life was almost over, He had a brief conversation with one of the two thieves hanging on either side of Him.  The gospel of Matthew tells us that this thief had actually been mocking Jesus earlier in his crucifixion.  But Luke tells us the rest of the story:  With the clock ticking down on his life, the thief had a sudden change of heart and made a simple request:  “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.”

     The man was a low-life, a common criminal attempting a desperate deathbed conversion, and all he could utter was a request that wasn’t exactly profound:  “Remember me.”

     Jesus didn’t do an inventory of the man’s good or bad deeds before He responded.  He didn’t ignore him or wait until the man said the perfect words.  “Remember me” was more than enough.  In the final minutes of their lives, Jesus responded, “Truly I say to you, today you’ll be with Me in Paradise.”

     Maybe you won’t go to church this Easter — maybe you don’t even want to.  Maybe you’re a believer who’s insecure about your salvation.  Maybe the idea of praying about something as monumental as your eternal salvation seems intimidating to you — you wouldn’t even know where to start.  Start here:  “Remember me.”

     It doesn’t matter if your motives are self-interested or if you’ve never shown any desire to follow Jesus.  It doesn’t matter how many mistakes you’ve made.  He’s there willing and waiting to take you home with Him.

     Call out to Him.  Trust that He’s willing to welcome you into His kingdom.  Ask Him to remember you today.  His certain response will have nothing to do with your worthiness and everything to do with His unfailing love.

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“Start here,” Rogers says.  The thief was near the end of his life, so he ended right after he started.  But unless you are near the end of your life (though, who knows?), this prayer must not be the sum total of the Christian life.  Jesus wants you to grow in your faith, do what is right, fight against your temptations, and keep in touch with Him through more prayer and worship and reading his Word.  

But just like for the thief on the cross who first said these words to Jesus, this simple request is a place to start, and, something to return to often.  Keep this prayer in mind.  You can say it anytime and anywhere:  when you are looking for help, looking for hope, or even when you are so blessed as to be doing just fine and want to express your gratitude by remembering the One who is the giver of all your blessings. 

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Luke 23:42-43  —  (The thief on the cross next to Jesus) said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

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John 8:10-11  —  Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  

“No one, sir,” she said.  

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

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Psalm 106:4  —  Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them.

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Jesus, remember me.

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1459) Mad at Who?

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Phil Robertson talks about duck calls and Jesus

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By Phil Robertson in NKJV Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible.

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     Years ago I was invited to give my duck call demonstration at a store in Iowa.  A huge crowd of duck hunters gathered around me like bees on honey.  They’d seen our Duck Commander DVDs and our TV show on the Outdoor Channel, and they wanted to meet me in person.  After I went through my demonstration, I used the opportunity to share the gospel.  Look, I know if you’re gonna do that, there’ll be a trickle of people who’ll head toward the exit.  But that’s okay with me, because I’ve also seen the impact of the gospel on people’s lives.

     About five years after that presentation in Iowa, I got this letter:

Dear Mr. Robertson,

I came to hear your demonstration in Iowa because you were my hero in the duck calling world.  In my mind you were the big cheese and the guru, so I had you all built up.  As you went through the demonstration, I thought, That guy can sure blow a duck call– if I could only get half as good as he is.

     I really looked up to you.  But before a cat could lick his tail, the duck calls went back inside your little satchel and the next thing I know, you got a Bible and you’re talking about sin, death, and Jesus.  I’m thinking, What a jerk!  He’s taking advantage of me.  I came to hear a duck call and now he’s beating me over the head with religion!  When I left there, I bad-mouthed you.  I cussed you to everybody I knew.  I even threw your duck calls away.

     But a strange thing happened.  What I heard kept gnawing at me.  One day I woke up and sat on the side of my bed.  I was thinking, Now wait a minute!  This guy told us that we were all sinners.  Which is true.  He proceeded to tell us that we’re all going to go six feet under.  Which is also true.  So I began to question why I was so mad at you.

     It occurred to me, Mr. Robertson, that the whole time I’ve been bad-mouthing you, it really wasn’t you I was mad at— it was God.  He’s the One I’ve been rebelling against.  Here you give me the way off of Planet Earth, you tell me my sins can be removed so I can come forth from the grave— and I am cussing you out over that . . . for five years!  What can I say?  I’m an idiot.

     So I took you up on the good news of Jesus.  I responded by faith.  I was baptized.  My wife is thrilled.  My children are jumping up and down.  They’re happy because their dad is now a Christian.  I hereby officially apologize for cursing you for five years.

     Just because someone hears the gospel and their first response is to get mad or reject you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have said anything.  Remember it’s God who grants repentance to them.  This guy wrestled with the Almighty for years.  That’s spiritual warfare: the devil was on one side and God was on the other.  The Spirit, through the gospel, had convicted him at that duck call workshop.

     A guy once warned me that my preaching was going to hurt my business.  Hurt my business?  We’re comparing duck call sales to people getting their sins forgiven?  After all, Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12)!  And if He lives in us, Jesus says we’re supposed to let our light shine so that people will see it and come to Him.  Look, I enjoy going to conventions to talk about duck calls, but I want to get down to some more important business while I’m there.  The truth is I really don’t care what it does to the duck call business.

     Besides, I’d say things are working out okay for us on that front.

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I Thessalonians 2:2b  —  With the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.

2 Timothy 2:24-26  —  The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

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.”

Luke 11:33  —  (Jesus said), “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.”

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We are going home to many who cannot or will not read your Word.  So, Lord, make us to be a Bible, living as you have taught us to live, so that those who do not read the Book can read it in us.

–Prayer of a Chinese woman

1450) “God, Give Me Another Chance”

Voice of the Martyrs magazine, April 2017, page 11, (www.persecution.com)

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     As Roberto Santo Gomez looked back on his life, he felt like he hadn’t amounted to much.  He was empty inside and his heart was filled with hate.  As a member of the leftist Zapatista rebel group, his work involved shaking down people for money, running drugs, and fighting the government.  But that hadn’t given his life meaning, and now he felt trapped by the Zapatista cause.

     After considering his options, Roberto decided he would go north to the United States and try to make some money.  As many others had before him, Roberto hopped the train that runs from Chiapas in southern Mexico to the U.S. border.

     The trip didn’t go as planned, however.  Roberto fell from the train, severing his left arm and leaving him with multiple fractures.  As he lay on the ground in agonizing pain, he suddenly recalled the words of a street preacher he’d once heard in a park, and his thoughts turned to God.

     “God, if you exist, give me another chance,” he prayed.  “Give me life and I’ll get up and I’ll look for you and I will speak about you.”

     God answered Roberto’s prayers.  He survived the accident, returned to his home and, true to his word, became an itinerant preacher.  Roberto is still poor by earthly standards, but he lives by faith and survives on the generosity of those he meets.  “When I hear him preach, it touches my heart because he preaches with such passion,” a local Voice of the Martyrs worker said.

     The street preacher from Roberto’s past had such an effect on him that he decided to do the same kind of work.  He shares God’s love in parks and on street corners with anyone who will listen.  Though he is often rejected or ignored, he knows from personal experience that God’s Word is planting seeds.

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Lamentations 3:19-23  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Jonah 2:2  —  In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

Romans 10:17  —  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

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1437) He Forgot to Sneer

     Several years ago I went to Mexico to visit some Lutheran churches and mission projects.  I traveled with an American missionary working just south of the border, and with a Mexican pastor, Rev. Encarnencion Estrada.  Encarnencion told me the story of his conversion.  He said that when he was a young man, he and his friends were troublemakers and had no respect for anyone or anything, not even God.  They had heard about a Lutheran missionary who was coming to their city to speak.  Enacarnencion had the idea that he and his friends should go to the outdoor service and pretend they were interested.  Then, in the middle of the sermon, he would sneak around behind the makeshift platform and stage and knock the whole thing over, preacher and all.  Then everyone could have a good laugh.  

     As Encarnencion quietly crept closer, he could not help but hear the sermon.  As he listened to the story of Christ’s death on the cross, the words moved him.  The preacher said Jesus died for everyone, even the worst of us.  Encarnencion wanted to hear more, so he decided to delay his prank for a few minutes.  In that brief time, the Lord started to really work in his heart, he said, and he to began shake all over and sweat.  He did not know what was happening, but he started praying.  Encarnencion forgot all about his prank, and at the end of the sermon, he went up onto the stage he had planned to demolish, and there he gave his life to Christ.

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The famous skeptic David Hume (1711-1776) once went to hear the most famous English preacher of the day George Whitefield (1714-1770).  Though Hume was probably an atheist, he came away from that service saying, “I was so taken in by that man’s sermon that I forgot to sneer.”
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Romans 5:6-8  —  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Acts 13:41-44  —  (Paul said), “Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.”  As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath.  When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.  On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.

Romans 10:17  —  Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

John 9:25b  —  “…I was blind, but now I see.”

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer

1390) The Moment of Truth

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By Fred Craddock (1928-2015), Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 2001, Chalice Press, pages 23-24.

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     When I was pastoring in Tennessee, there was a girl about seven years old who came to our church regularly for Sunday school, and sometimes her parents let her stay for the worship service.  They didn’t come.  We had a circular drive at that church.  It was built for people who let their children off and drove on.  We didn’t want to inconvenience them, so we had a circular drive.  But they were very faithful, Mom and Dad.  They had moved from New Jersey with the new chemical plant.  He was upwardly mobile; they were both very ambitious; and they didn’t come to church.  There wasn’t really any need for that, I guess.

     But on Saturday nights, the whole town knew of their parties.  They gave parties, not for entertainment, but as part of the upwardly mobile thing.  That determined who was invited:  the right people, the one just above him at work, and all the way on up to the boss.  And those parties were full of drinking and wild and vulgar things.  Everybody knew.

     But there was their beautiful girl every Sunday.

     One Sunday morning I looked out, and she was there.  I thought, “Well, she’s with her friends,” but it was her Mom and Dad.  After the sermon, at the close of the service, as is the custom at my church, came an invitation to discipleship, and Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad came to the front.  They confessed faith in Christ.  Afterward I asked, “What prompted this?”

     They said, “Well, do you know about our parties?”

     And I said, “Yeah, I have heard about your parties.”

     They said, “Well, we had one last night again, and it got a little loud, it got a little rough, and there was too much drinking.   All the noise woke our daughter, and she came downstairs to about the third step.  She saw that we were eating and drinking, and she said, ‘Oh, can I say the blessing?  God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.  Good-night, everybody.’  She went back upstairs.  It was quiet.  Then somebody said ‘Oh, my land, it’s time to go, we’ve got to be going.’  And someone else said, ‘We’ve stayed way too long.’  Within two minutes the room was empty.”

     Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad began cleaning up, picking up crumpled napkins and wasted and spilled peanuts and half sandwiches, and taking empty glasses on trays to the kitchen.  And with two trays, he and she met on either side of the sink, they looked at each other, and he expressed what both were thinking: “Where do we think we’re going?”

     The moment of truth.

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Isaiah 11:6b  —  …A little child will lead them.

Matthew 18:1-5  —  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Mark 10:13-15  —  People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them.  When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

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Almighty God, give me grace to trust to Thy never-failing care and love those who are dear to me, for this life and the life to come; knowing that Thou art doing for them better things than I can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Charles Lewis Slattery  (1867-1930), Episcopal Bishop, Boston

1384) Have You Seen the Light? (c)

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     (…continued)  I once knew a lady who, right at the end of her life, ‘saw the light.’  Doris left the little town where I was a pastor fifty years before I arrived.  She moved out to California to make lots of money and live an exciting life, and that’s what she did— for fifty years.  Her mother, Helen, who I visited with monthly communion, was in failing health.  Doris, a widow now, was coming back home to care for her old mother until she died.  Helen told me that Doris might bring her to church once in a while, and she might not; but either way, Doris would not be going to church herself because she didn’t go to church all the while she was in California.  Church was not a part of her exciting life.

     I did not see either one for a while, but then one Sunday there was Helen, and also Doris, who sat through the whole service with her mother.  The next Sunday, they were both there again; and every Sunday from then on.  Then Doris said she wanted to join the church.  I said, “That is great, Doris, but tell me about this– all these years of never going to church, and now, you never miss.  What happened?”

     “Well,” Doris said, “it was something you said that first Sunday I brought Mom to church.  The rest of the sermon wasn’t all that good, but one line got me thinking.  You said that many people make careful preparations for their retirement, which they may not even get to enjoy; and they make no preparations for the rest of eternity, which they will most certainly face.”  Doris said, “That’s me.  I am all set for a very comfortable retirement, but I haven’t given a bit of thought to what comes next.  I thought it was time I start paying attention.  I want what Jesus has to offer, and I want to have Jesus in my life.”

     “Praise the Lord, she saw the light… Jesus came to her, and she let her dear Savior in.” 

     Not long after that, Doris’s comfortable retirement was ended by a sudden, fatal heart attack.  She died even before her old mother, and she was off to what was next; which for her, was now that place where there is “no more darkness, no more night, and no sorrow in sight.”  Praise the Lord!

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James 4:13-15  —  Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Psalm 85:8a  —  I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants…

Acts 3:19  —  Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

Romans 10:9  —  If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1383) Have You Seen the Light? (b)

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The Light of the World, 1854, William Holman Hunt, English painter  (1827-1910)

Jesus, bringing light, preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door (Revelation 3:20).

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     (…continued)  Matthew 4:16 tells us what it means to walk in this darkness.  The last half of the verse refers to those living in ‘the land of the shadow of death,’ and that is, of course, all of us.  Death is an ever-present threat, so we are all, always, living in its shadow.  We grieve the loss of those we have loved, we worry over the living, and we live with the knowledge that any day could be our last.  And it’s not only people that die.  Hopes and dreams also die, as the once bright future gradually grinds along into the distant past; and so much always remains unfulfilled, and so many plans end in disappointment.  Not only that, but relationships die and hearts are broken.  And even in those times when everything works out wonderfully, and the all dreams do come true, and relationships do work out, it is only for a little while, and then, as my mother used to say, “All good things must come to an end.”  We would be playing outside at the end of a perfect summer day, and even though we knew it was late and getting dark, we would not like to hear her say, “Time to come in now.”  As we walked into the house grumbling, she would say it every time, “All good things must come to an end.”  We got kind of tired of hearing it, but it was, and still is, the truth.  Good times end, hopes fizzle out, relationships fail, people die; and so we all know very well what the Bible means when it talks about walking in darkness and living in the land of the shadow of death. 

     But when you see the light of Jesus, your eyes are opened to his promise that, “He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live;” so as Paul wrote, “We look not to what is seen but to what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:18).  That truth changes everything.

     There is another kind of darkness.  Hank Williams referred to this darkness when he began the song with, “I wandered so aimless, my life filled with sin.”  I John 1 says:  “This is the message we heard from Jesus and declare to you; God is light, in him there is no darkness.  If we claim to be with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we confess our sins, and walk in the light, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”  Hank Williams put it like this: “I was a fool to wander and stray, straight is the gate and narrow the way, but now I have traded the wrong for the right; Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”

     God did not give his commandments to pester us with busy work.  Rather, these commands simply teach us how to best live the life God has given to us, in this world that He has created for us.  He ought to know what works.  So when we sin and disobey God’s commands, we end up in the darkness of guilt and regret, of conflict and broken relationships and troubled communities, and in the darkness of fear and anxiety.  And this darkness comes not only from our own sins, but we are also hurt by the sins of others.  We are all familiar with the darkness of sin.  But when we see the light of Jesus, and obey his commands, life can be built on the solid foundation of his Word.

     There is still another kind of darkness, and this is the darkness of ingratitude, of being blind to all the wonders of God’s good creation.  It is the darkness of an ongoing bad attitude, focusing only on everything that is wrong in the world and in your life.  In every life there is plenty of evil, wickedness, troubles, bad luck, and frustration; and there are those who get way more than their share of such afflictions.  But no matter who you are, if that is all you see, you are in the darkness; you are blind to so many blessings, so much good, and so many promises.  You have got to pray that you, as the song says, can be “like the blind man that God gave back his sight.”  We all know people who have been clobbered around by life more than most, but they still find all kinds of reasons to thank and praise God and have a smile on their face.  That’s a powerful witness.  Seeing the light of Jesus means seeing and being grateful for the many ways he has blessed you.

     Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”  In John 8:12, Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Seeing the light of Jesus, then, means:  #1) being grateful for this life and all that is in it; #2) having the desire live how God wants you to live this life he has given you; and, #3) taking comfort in seeing this life in the context of God’s promise of eternal life.  (continued…)

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Matthew 4:16  —  The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death 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.”

Revelation 22:5  —   There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.  And they will reign for ever and ever.

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1382) Have You Seen the Light? (a)

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Hank Williams, Sr. and Hank Williams, Jr.  (approx. 1950)

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     Seventy  years ago this week, Hank Williams, Sr. wrote the song “I Saw the Light.”  Earlier in the month, the 23-year old Williams and his band were returning to Montgomery, Alabama from a show in Fort Deposit, a little town 30 miles south of Montgomery.  Williams, however, was unable to stay awake for the short drive because he was passed out drunk, as usual after shows, in the back seat of the car.  As they were approaching the city, the driver, seeing the lights of the airport, announced to the band that they were almost home, saying, “I just saw the lights.”  Hank woke up, and a light must have went off in his mind, because a few days later he wrote what has become a Country and Gospel music classic.

     Just a few months before this, Williams auditioned for, and was rejected by, the Grand Ole Opry.  Just a few months later, he was a big star, signed a recording contract with MGM, and started turning out hit after hit—35 top ten singles in the next six years.  And then Hank Williams died, on New Year’s Day, 1953, at the age of 29, in the back seat of a car on the way to a concert.

     Williams was born with a spinal defect, made worse over the years by falling and fighting.  He lived with constant pain, became addicted to pain killers which he used to excess, and then to alcohol.  The continuous overuse of both, often consumed together, destroyed his heart.

     Williams was to perform that New Year’s Day in Canton, Ohio with several others.  The concert hall was already filled, when the other performers received word of Williams’ death.  It was announced it to the crowd, and many people started to laugh, thinking it was a joke.  But then the band softly started to play a song as a tribute.  The crowd quieted, realizing it was not a joke; and then began to sing along to “I Saw the Light.”

     The song is the testimony of a backslider, living in the hope of repentance, redemption, and a chance to start over.  Hank Williams did a lot of backsliding in his short life.  One might even say he was backsliding all the while.  He was raised in the Baptist church where his mother was the organist, but as an adult he did not talk about his faith, and gave little evidence of trying to live it.  But he sure could sing about the power of faith in Jesus, as he did in this wonderful song.  Whether he was expressing what was in his heart, or just writing words he thought might be popular enough to be another hit, only God knows.

     Matthew 4:16 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”   “I Saw the Light” begins with these words: “I wandered so aimless, life filled with sin, I wouldn’t let my dear Savior in; then Jesus came like a stranger in the night, Praise the Lord, I saw the light.”  Then in the refrain, Williams sings: “No more darkness, no more night… no sorrow in sight, I saw the light.”  That sounds a lot like Matthew 4:16 (which is quoting a prophecy in Isaiah 9:2).

     There are several more Bible references in the short song.  First, there is the part about Jesus coming as a stranger in the night.  The Bible actually says ‘thief in the night,’ and that you will find in Matthew 24 and I Thessalonians 5.  In Revelation 22 we find the phrase “there will be no more night.”  In verse two, Williams sings about how he was, “Just like the blind man that God gave back his sight, praise the Lord, I saw the light.”  That’s in John chapter nine.  In the last verse there is a reference to the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 7 when it says “straight is the gate and narrow the way.”  And the main reference to the image of light that is used in the song is in John 8:12, where Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  That’s eight Bible references in three verses—not bad for a backslider.  Williams spent much of his life in the darkness, not only with his drug and alcohol abuse, but also because of his lying, infidelity, irresponsibility, lack of loyalty, lack of faith, arrogance, and quick temper.  But it is clear he did know his Bible and he did know about Jesus.  We can only hope that somewhere along the line he really did what he sang about in verse one, and “let his dear Savior in.”

     Have seen the light?  Do you know what it means to walk in darkness, and to live in the land of the shadow of death?  Do you know what that is like?  And if so, are you familiar with the experience described by Matthew to have seen a great light, or, to have the light dawn in your life?  Do you know what that is like?  What is this darkness?  What is this light?  And what does it look like in one’s life?  What does it mean to say that Jesus is the light of the world?  (continued…)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtolv9kM1qk

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

–Ancient Jesus prayer (based on Luke 18:13)

1372) The Big Pygmy (b)

“I Went From Fighting in a Cage to Living in a Hut”

     (…continued)  After Jesus helped me overcome my depression and addiction, my dreams for my life changed.  I wanted more than MMA fame; I wanted to serve God however I could.  I started volunteering at local ministries and prisons, sharing my story with anyone who would listen.

     I also knew I needed a break from MMA (Mixed Martial Arts fighting).  Even though I still loved the sport, the temptations were too great.  But without fighting, I didn’t know what to do with my life.  In desperation, I prayed:  God, I’m yours.  Is there anything you want me to do?  I desire to do your will, not mine.

     That’s when a strange vision flooded my head.  I watched myself weaving through the jungle.  Among the forest’s white noise, I heard the faint sound of lively music, unlike anything I’d heard before.  As I stepped into a clearing, I saw 150 people, living in a cluster of twig-and-leaf huts.

     I took a step forward, and the vision changed.  I was bombarded by flash-fast images of malnourished children and starving old men.  I saw a man dying from a disease eating him alive.  For some reason, I could tell these people were oppressed and outcasts.

     I sobbed so uncontrollably that I left a puddle of tears on my Bible.  I wondered if I was crazy, but I knew I couldn’t have imagined what I saw on my own.  I didn’t know who these people were, but I knew I had to help them.  Turning suddenly to Isaiah 58, my eyes locked onto verses 6–12 (see below), about God’s heart for the poor and oppressed.  The passage started a fire in my heart.

      I shared my vision with my mentor, Caleb, and he immediately knew I was describing a Mbuti (or Pygmy) tribe in the Congo.  He told me he was leading a group there in a month with his high-risk missions ministry, Unusual Soldiers, and he encouraged me to go with him.  Our goal on this trip would be to find the most remote Mbuti villages in the jungle, form relationships with them, and learn more about their needs.

     I saw firsthand that circumstances there were graver than I had seen in my vision.  And after several months back home, I still could not shake my burden.  Caleb connected me with Shalom University, a Congolese Christian school dedicated to serving the Pygmies.  I knew I couldn’t help them unless I understood them first, so I lived with them for a year.  I slept in a twig-and-leaf hut, ate their food, and suffered from the same diseases.  One bout with malaria nearly killed me.  But no matter how tough things got, I felt more at home than I ever had in the gym.

     I was soon adopted into the Pygmy tribe and given a new name:  Eféosa Mbuti MangBO.  “Mbuti MangBO” means “The Big Pygmy,” which is appropriate, since at six foot three I tower over the average (four-foot-seven) Pygmy man.  “Eféosa” means “The Man Who Loves Us.”

     Recently, after a five-year hiatus, I returned to the MMA cage with the goal of raising money for Fight for the Forgotten, the organization I founded to help serve the Pygmies.  The drive to fight is still there, but I’m no longer fighting my inner demons.  I’m fighting to fulfill God’s call on my life.

For more about Justin Wren and Fight for the Forgotten, go to:

http://www.water4.org/fightfortheforgotten

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Image result for justin wren images

Justin Wren  (on the left)

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Isaiah 58:6-12:

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

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O Lord, our Savior, you have said that you will require much of those to whom much is given.  Grant that we who have been so richly blessed may strive together to extend to others what we so richly enjoy, to the fulfillment of your holy will and the everlasting salvation of all; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–St. Augustine  (354-430)

1371) The Big Pygmy (a)

 Related image

Justin Wren (on the right)

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“I Went From Fighting in a Cage to Living in a Hut”

Romans 7:24  —  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Romans 7:25  —   Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

John 8:36  —  (Jesus said), “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

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 CONFESSION OF SINS from the Lutheran liturgy:
Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us.  Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name.  Amen.