1315) Memories

“REMEMBER THE BEST AND FORGET THE REST”

Adapted from Rick Warren’s November 13, 2016 devotional blog ‘Daily Hope’ at:  www.pastorrick.com

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     What do you remember about people — the good experiences or the bad experiences?  The apostle Paul’s attitude was to remember the good things about people, focus on the good times, and remember the positive experiences.

     Paul did not had an easy time in Philippi.  Acts 16 tells us that when he went to Philippi he was illegally arrested, whipped, humiliated, and thrown into prison before finally being asked to leave town.  Yet he wrote to those people there that did eventually respond to the Gospel, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3).

     Paul could have dwelt on the negative.  He could have remembered the painful memories.  He chose not to remember the painful things; instead, he focused on the things he could be grateful for.

     Maybe you have been hurt in the past by a parent or a partner, and you’re still holding on to that hurt.  As a result, you can’t enjoy being around that person today.  You’re still focusing on the negative.

     Be grateful for the good in people.  Pleasant memories are a choice.  You can choose what you’re going to remember about the past.

     I’m not saying that you should deny the hurts you’ve had or excuse the weaknesses in other people.  That is psychologically unhealthy.  But focus on the good, and choose to emphasize the strengths.

     I hear wives say, “He’s a good man, but …”  Anytime you hear “but,” it means the emphasis is on the negative and not the positive.  Be grateful for what you’ve got!  Mr. Perfect does not exist.  I’ve heard the same thing from husbands, but Mrs. Perfect does not exist either.

     If you want to enjoy others, you’ve got to focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses.  With some people, it takes a lot of creativity.  But you can find something good in everybody.

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A man was telling his friend about the big argument he had with his wife the night before.  “She was historical,” he said.  “You must mean hysterical,” his friend responded.  “No, I mean historical,” the first man replied, adding, “She remembered and reminded me of every single thing I’ve done wrong in our entire married life.”

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The only hope for those who insist on focusing on the bad memories:

Image result for the secret to happiness is good health and a bad memory

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Philippians 1:3  —  I thank my God every time I remember you.

Colossians 3:15  —  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be thankful.

Proverbs 19:11  —  A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

I Corinthians 13:4-6  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

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O Lord Jesus, because, being full of foolishness, we often sin and have to ask pardon, help us to forgive as we would be forgiven, neither mentioning old offenses committed against us, nor dwelling upon them in thought, nor being influenced by them in heart; but loving each other freely, as you freely love us; for your name’s sake.  Amen.

–Christina Rossetti, English poet  (1830-1894)

1169) Seeing Deeper Than Our Differences

From What the Confederate Stranger and A Small Town in Maine Can Teach Us About Human Decency, By Christine Rousselle, June 21, 2016 blog at http://www.townhall.com

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     In 1862, a man named Lt. Charles H. Colley of Gray, Maine, was killed during the Battle of Cedar Mountain.  When his grieving family opened up the casket that was supposed to contain their son, they were stunned to discover that a fully uniformed Confederate soldier had been shipped to them instead.  Having no way to identify the soldier, and also lacking the means to ship him back to Virginia, Lt. Colley’s family decided to bury him in Gray Village Cemetery alongside the Union soldiers who had been killed in the war.  They figured that this unknown Confederate’s family would appreciate the gesture, even though they’d never find out about it.  The Ladies of Gray, a group of mothers whose sons were either missing, injured, or killed in the war, paid to put up a headstone for this unknown Confederate.

     The headstone’s inscription is simple and gut-wrenching:  “Stranger.  A soldier of the late war.  Erected by the Ladies of Gray.”

     For the first 90-something years after Stranger’s most unexpected arrival in Maine, his headstone was treated the same as all of the other veterans buried at the cemetery.  Since 1956, however, a Confederate battle flag has been placed next to Stranger’s grave-site each Memorial Day– a pop of solid red amidst a sea of American flags.

     This past Father’s Day, while visiting family back in my home state of Maine, I had the chance to pay a visit to the Confederate Stranger’s grave, and seeing the stone was a very sobering experience.  Gray sent more people to fight for the Union Army per capita than any small town in Maine, and nearly 200 of them didn’t get to come home.  The people of Gray, especially mothers whose sons could have been shot at or killed by Stranger, had every right to have simply buried Stranger in an unmarked grave in a field somewhere in the town.  It would have been completely understandable– this person was, after all, an enemy soldier during a time of war.  Instead, they recognized their shared humanity with this unknown man, and buried him alongside local heroes and treated him like one of their own.

     Which brings me to today.  While the nation certainly isn’t as polarized as it was during the 1860s, the situation is pretty bad.  People are going out of their way to isolate themselves in a bubble of only their own views.  Take a look at what people are saying on Facebook about people they once called their friends: (language warning).  (Here, the writer inserted a Facebook exchange of two friends ‘unfriending’ each other because of their political differences.) 

     We’ve come a long way from 1862, but not entirely in a good way.  People are quick to use a person’s political beliefs to define them as a person, when in reality, politics are just a piece of the puzzle that makes people, people.  We’re all different, and somehow in the last 150 years it has become acceptable to completely remove someone from your life (or ask them to remove themselves) because of political differences.  That’s insane.

     As a society, we should look to the actions of the Ladies of Gray for inspiration on how to behave with decency and respect in times of fighting and conflict.  In 1862, America was at a war with itself– it doesn’t get more polarized than that.  If the Ladies of Gray could find it within themselves to create and maintain a dignified memorial to a man who was quite literally trying to kill their sons before he died, there’s no excuse for the rest of us to not get along.

     This election cycle has been a doozy, there’s no denying that.  The rhetoric being spewed by both sides is borderline nasty, and we’re a nation divided once again.  Despite this, it’s important to remember that we have more commonalities than differences– and that through it all, we’re all still human beings… regardless of who receives our vote in November.

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Be kind.  Be kind.  Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

–An old quote, attributed to many different people

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Romans 14:19-20a  —  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.  Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food (or politics).

III John 1:5  —  Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you.

Job 29:16  —  I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger.

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As we are forgiven by you, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us.  Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge.  May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper.  We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart.  Amen.

–Martin Luther 

1075) My Ants

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     God is always doing the unexpected to win us back to Himself.  And what could be more unexpected than for God himself to come among us, take our sins upon himself, and suffer and die for us so that we might be forgiven and return to Him?  Three thousand years ago the Psalmist (8:3-4) wondered about this very thing when he wrote, “Almighty God, when I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the sun and the moon which you have set in place, what are we that you even pay attention to us and care for us?”

     When I read those verses I think about the many ants that live rent-free on my property.  Soon, they will again be building their little kingdoms all over my lawn.  I don’t care about ants and I don’t pay any attention to them; that is, unless they get to be too much of a nuisance, and then I poison them or step on them.  Why should I care about ants?  

     But when you think about it, we have more in common with ants than we have with God.  In the spectrum from little to big, from unimportant to very important, from lower to higher forms of intelligence, we are far closer to the ants than to God.  Look at all we have in common with ants:

We are limited to our bodies, and so are the ants.  God is an infinite being who chose to take on a body in the form of Jesus Christ, but is in no way limited by that.  God can be in all places at all times.  

We are limited to creeping around on this little planet all our days, and so are the ants.  God owns and occupies the whole universe.  

Our time on this earth is limited and then we die, just like ants.  God lives and reigns to all eternity.  

We are more intelligent than ants, but not so smart that we can’t learn something from them.  In Proverbs 6:6 God says, “Look at the ant, you sluggards, consider its ways and be wise.”  Proverbs 30:25 says the ants are little, but at least they know enough to save for the future.  We might also add they are better organized and work together more efficiently than most human organizations.  So, in some ways we might be smarter than the ants and in other ways not.  But God, far above ants and humans, knows all and sees all.

     Compared to the distance between God and us, we are only a little bigger, a little smarter, and live a little longer than ants.  Still, I am happy to ignore my ants and all the other ants in the world.  

     Yet, God cares about each one of us humans, all over the world, defiant, disobedient, and insignificant little creatures that we are.  God cares enough to tell us how to live and correct us if we disobey; cares enough to love us and promise us another life; and cares enough to come to earth in person, taking our sin upon himself so that we may be forgiven.  

     For God to become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14) was a bigger stretch than it would be for me to become an ant in my backyard and dwell among them (and then, continuing the comparison, allow them to kill me!).  

     It is for us to wonder at such amazing grace, and to respond to it with love and faith and obedience.

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John 1:14…11-12  —  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth…  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Philippians 2:5-8  —  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servantbeing made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross.

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Prayer based on Psalm 8:

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
Who am I that you even pay any attention to me,
    Who am I, that you even care about me?

Yet, you have made me only a little lower than the angels
    and crowned me with glory and honor.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.

1074) Love and Obedience

     The book of I John has two main themes, love and obedience.  John is an old man by the time he is writing these words, and all of his theology is now focused on the basics, which he repeats over and over.  John is the writer who remembered and recorded those great words of Jesus about God’s love in John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Now, nearing the end of his life, John continues that emphasis on God’s love.

     In I John 3:1 he rejoices in this truth, saying, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be able to be called children of God.”  In the words that follow, John tells us that such love of God should lead us to a response of obedience.  Verse three says, “everyone who has this hope in him should purify himself, just as Jesus is pure.”  In verse five John says, “Jesus appeared to take away our sins, so when we are in him, there should be no sin.”  The Bible doesn’t describe only God’s love, nor does it describe only God’s commands.  Both are there, and the two are most profoundly linked in the person of Jesus Christ.  John tells us that by looking to Jesus we can be inspired to obey.

     I once heard this illustrated in a sermon by an old pastor talking about his father, a stern and dignified judge in rural Nebraska.  The son seldom saw his father wearing anything but his black suit, white shirt, and bow-tie.  He remembered how, when he was small, he looked forward to his father returning from work, even though when his dad did return it was always the same routine.  Always the dignified one, the father would say “Good afternoon, son,” and then sit on the porch swing and watch the boy play.  The father would not pick up a ball and play catch, he would not come down and push his son on the swing, he would not push the toy trucks around and make engine noises.  That was all kid’s stuff, and stern and proper fathers, especially those who were judges, were supposed to sit and watch, and maybe, on a rare occasion, smile a little.  That was what the father thought, and the son never saw it any other way, so he thought that is what fathers were supposed to do.

     One day, the son got into all sorts of trouble with his mother.  He chased the dog around in the house, knocked over an end table, and broke his mother’s favorite lamp.  Then he got in a fight with the boy next door and came home with his shirt all bloodied and torn.  And then he spoke disrespectfully to his mother and even said a bad word.  There had been several days like that recently, and this one was the worst.  The mother told her son that she would be reporting all of this to his father and that he would be dealing with the boy when he got home.

     When the father got home, his wife met him at the door and asked him not to sit on the porch swing, but to come inside.  The son was playing on the front yard, dreading what would come next.  He had never seen his mother so upset with him.  Finally, the door opened and the father came out and stood on the porch.  For a long time he looked at his son with that familiar stern look.  Then that father did the strangest thing.  He took off his suit coat and laid it on the porch swing.  He took off his bow-tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves.  And then he knelt down in the dirt by his son, picked up a toy truck, and said, “Son, show me how you work one of these things.”  And for the next half hour, that father and son, for the first time ever, played together in the dirt.

     Sixty years later that son, by then a retired pastor, described the impact that simple act had on him.  He said what his father did was probably very difficult for him, being the proper gentleman that he was.  But it was so unexpected and it expressed such love, that from then on, the son wanted to be good so that he would never have to disappoint his father– this father who would get down on his knees to play with him in the dirt, and to do that when the son was expecting a much deserved spanking.

   God wants us to be good.  When we obey his commands, life is better for ourselves and those around us.  That is why he gives the commands in the first place.  In the Bible, as in the home, there are several ways God encourages our obedience.  There are threats and promises, there are blessings given and blessings denied, and there are punishments and rewards.  

     But most of all, there is Jesus, the high and mighty, perfect and holy one, who comes down, not from the porch, but from heaven.  He comes to us and gets down on his knees with us in the dust and dirt of this life.  And in seeing this from Jesus, God’s own Son, and in getting to know Jesus not only as our God, but as our friend, we can begin to trust that his commands for us are good.  That’s what John meant when he was always saying things like “So we love because he first loved us,” and “No one who lives in him will want to keep on sinning,” and “If anyone obeys his Word, then God’s love is truly made complete in him.”  (I John 4:19, I John 3:6, I John 2:5)

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Lord Jesus, fill us, we pray, with your light and life that we may show forth your wonderful glory.  Grant that your love may so fill our lives that we may count nothing too small to do for you, nothing too much to give to you, and nothing too much to bear for you.  Amen.

–Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order  (1491-1556)

1039) Valentine’s Day Last Words

Robertson and Muriel McQuilkin

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Adapted from an article at:  www.familylife.com

     They met as students at Columbia Bible College.  Robertson McQuilkin remembers sitting behind her in chapel, watching Muriel Webendorfer run her “lovely, artistic fingers” through her “lovely, brown hair.”  As they began spending time together, he discovered Muriel was “delightful, smart, and gifted, and just a great lover of people and more fun than you can imagine.”

     He proposed on Valentine’s Day in 1948 and they married in August the same year.  For the next three decades, they raised six children and served God together at a variety of posts, including 12 years as missionaries in Japan.  In 1968 they returned to the United States and Robertson became president of Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University).  Muriel taught at the college, spoke at women’s conferences, appeared on television, and was featured on a radio program that was considered for national syndication.

     The first sign that their lives were about to change appeared in 1978, during a trip to Florida to visit some friends.  Muriel loved to tell stories, and punctuated them with her infectious laughter.  But while they were driving, she began telling a story she had just finished a few minutes earlier.  “Honey, you just told us that,” Robertson said, but she laughed and went on.

     “That’s funny,” Robertson thought. “That has never happened before.”

     But the same type of problem occurred again, and with increasing frequency.  Muriel began to find it difficult to plan menus for parties.  She would speak at public functions and lose her train of thought.  She had to give up her radio show.

     In 1981, when Muriel was hospitalized for tests on her heart, a doctor told Robertson, “You may need to think about the possibility of Alzheimer’s disease.”  It was hard to believe, since the disease does not usually strike someone so young.  But the diagnosis was confirmed by other doctors.

     As the next few years went by, Robertson watched helplessly as his fun, creative, loving partner slowly faded away.  Muriel knew she was having problems, but she never understood that she had Alzheimer’s.  “One thing about forgetting is that you forget that you forgot.  So, she never seemed to suffer too much with it.”  One time, after already experiencing significant memory loss, Muriel saw a television program about Alzheimer’s disease and said, “I sure hope I never get that.”

     Muriel found it more and more difficult to express herself.  She stopped speaking in complete sentences, relying on phrases or words.  Though she continued to recognize her husband and children, she lived, in Robertson’s words, “in happy oblivion to almost everything else.”

     There was one phrase she said often, however:  “I love you.”  Robertson learned much about love from Muriel, and from God, during those first few years of her disease.  When he was away from her, she became distressed, and would often walk the half-mile to his office several times a day to look for him.

     By 1990, Robertson knew he needed to make a decision about his career.  The school needed him 100 percent, and Muriel needed him 100 percent.  In the end, Robertson says, the choice to step down from his position was easy for him to make.  Perhaps the best explanation can be found in the letter he wrote to the Columbia Bible College constituency to explain his decision:

…Recently it has become apparent that Muriel is contented most of the time she is with me and almost none of the time I am away from her.  It is not just “discontent.”  She is filled with fear— even terror— that she has lost me and always goes in search of me when I leave home.  So it is clear to me that she needs me now, full-time…  The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health, till death do us part.”  …She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of her debt.  Duty, however, can be grim and stoic.  But there is more:  I love Muriel.  She is a delight to me— her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continual distressing frustration.  I don’t have to care for her.  I get to.  It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.

     So at age 57 Robertson resigned his position as college president and became a homemaker and a care-giver.  “People think it must be so difficult,” he said, “but actually even on the emotional side I didn’t look back with any regrets at all.  I enjoyed the new life.  It is God’s assignment for me now.”

     When Robertson accepted his new assignment, he thought his public ministry was ending.  Instead, it transformed into something altogether different.  In a culture where people prize their individual freedoms above all else, this simple story of a man who loved and served his wife has touched people in a way that he never anticipated.

     The story of Robertson’s act of love spread across the country.  Pastors mentioned it from the pulpit, leading couples to renew their wedding vows.  Christianity Today printed two articles by Robertson, and in 1998 he expanded that material into a book, A Promise Kept.  He appeared on television and radio.

     Robertson relied on God to give him the strength to meet his wife’s needs week after week, month after month.  

     One special memory was of Valentine’s Day in 1995.  He was riding an exercise bicycle at the foot of her bed and thinking of past Valentine’s days, including the one in 1948 when he asked for her hand in marriage.  Muriel woke up, smiled, and suddenly spoke for the first time in months, saying in a clear voice, “Love…love…love.”

     Robertson rushed over to give his wife a hug.  “Honey, you really do love me, don’t you?” he said.  She responded with the only words she could find to say yes: “I’m nice,” she said.

     Those were the last words Muriel ever spoke.  By the time their 50th anniversary passed in 1998, she had lost all ability to function on her own, and spent each day lying in bed.  During that time Roberston worked on writing projects and accepted some speaking engagements, but most days he was at home.  He cared for Muriel until her death on September 19, 2003.

     “In sickness and in health…”

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I Corinthians 13:7  —  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians 13:13  —  So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Matthew 25:40  —  (Jesus said), “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

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Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of all people, grant that we may not lavish away the life which you have given us on useless trifles; but enable us by your Holy Spirit to shun sloth and negligence so that every day we may carry out the tasks which you have allotted us.  Amen.

–Samuel Johnson

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Robertson McQuilkin died June 2, 2016 at the age of 88.  The following tribute was written by Randy Alcorn for him June 10, 2016 blog at http://www.epm.org:

http://www.epm.org/blog/2016/Jun/10/robertson-mcquilkin

1007) Love Never Fails? (part two)

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     (…continued)  Margaret was crushed.  She could not believe what she was reading.  She did not know what she would do or how she could tell the children.  For days she could not talk to the children about it.  Finally one of the children said, “Mommy, is something wrong?  Did something happen to Daddy?  You seem so sad and we have not received any letters for a very long time.”

     “Yes,” she replied, “there is something wrong.”

     “Is Daddy not coming back?,” they asked.  

     “No, he is not coming back,” she replied.

     “Why isn’t he coming back?” they asked.  

     “He has fallen in love with somebody else in Japan and he is going to stay there with her,” said their mother.

     The little ones could not understand it.  All they knew was that they were not going to see their daddy anymore.  Finally, one of the children said, “Mommy, just because daddy doesn’t love us anymore, does that mean we can’t love him anymore?”  

     The mother thought about it for a while, and then finally she said, “No, we are allowed to love him.”

     Then one of the children said, “Will you please write to daddy and ask him to keep writing to us because we still love him?”  

     Love persevering.

     And so even though the mother did not feel very much like continuing the contact, she did so for the boys’ sake.  Every letter would break her heart.  It turned out her husband was going to quit the army and marry the 15-year old servant girl who had been working for him.  As time went on, he had some children by that marriage, and life went on for all.  

     A few years later Margaret received another shocking letter.  “Dear Margaret,” it said, “I am sorry I have to write this to you, but I have cancer and do not have long to live.  I do not have any money saved to support my family in the future, there are no jobs, and I don’t know how they will survive.  Would it possible for you to save some money every month after I die, and send it to my family here to help them?”

     Margaret’s first reaction was anger, as one might well expect.  But as she held the letter, she kept thinking back to what her little boy had said many years before: “Just because he doesn’t love us anymore, does that mean we aren’t allowed to love him?”  So she wrote back and said, “I don’t have any extra money to send.  I would if I could, but you have to understand that we are barely surviving here.  But this is what I will do.  After you die, you can send your wife and children here to America.  I will teach them the language and help them to become self-supporting.  They can come into our home and live with us.  I will help them.”

    After his death, the man’s Japanese family came and lived with the American family that he had abandoned.  Margaret taught them English, got them on their feet, and eventually they were able to support themselves.  

     Love is patient, love is kind, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs.

     Margaret ended the article saying: “I had two choices.  I could have looked back upon my life and cursed that man every moment for what he had done to me.  I could have kept my anger alive, and thus, find myself broken and battered twice over.  Or, I could thank God for giving me the privilege to let His light shine in one very dark place in this world.”

     Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.

     I don’t know what Paul was getting at when he said ‘Love never fails,’ but I think this might be an example of what he meant.

     This is indeed an incredible story.  You might wonder if it is even true or if someone made it all up just to sell an article.  I have sometimes wondered if those magazines take the time to check out the truth of their stories.  

     But I know such forgiveness and love is possible because I knew a family with a similar story.  The experiences of the family I knew differed in many of the details from the Guideposts story, but it was the same in all the main points.  There was a loving family, and then adultery, separation, divorce, and then a death.  In the family I knew, it was the abandoned husband and his new wife who came and helped the former wife after the death of her second husband, leaving her with two small children.  I did the funeral for the young man who died, and in the weeks and months that followed I saw much of the two families and how they worked together.  It was an amazing thing to see, and a testimony to the whole community of the power of Christian love and forgiveness and service.

     Love does fail, but love can also persevere.  Granted, most situations do not work out this way.  Others work out in other ways.  Many do not work out at all.  The stories above worked out only after someone died.  In many situations, even when one tries to be loving, the other only wants to be mean.  In many other situations there is no love at all.  Sin has made this a wicked and messy world.  In both of the above stories there were actions that were sinful and unloving, but there were also actions that were full of incredible Christian forgiveness and love that brought healing.  

    I Corinthians 13 describes what Paul learned about love from the life of Jesus.  Those like Margaret, who have been inspired by the example of Jesus to find ways to do what is most loving, make the world a better place.  We must keep that in mind, for it is what our Lord has commanded us to do.

     “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said, “and do for them what you would want done for you.”  In doing so we, like Margaret said, are given the opportunity to shine the light of Christ in some very dark places.

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I John 4:7a  —  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

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

John 15:13  —  (Jesus said), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

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My God I love you, believe in you, and trust in you.  Help us to love one another as you love us.  Amen.

–Mother Teresa  (1910-1997)

1006) Love Never Fails? (part one)

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I CORINTHIANS 13

 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.  But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

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     I Corinthians 13 has been called the Bible’s love chapter.  The Bible is filled with descriptions of God’s love in action, and His commands for us to love one another.  But it is here in these 13 verses that Paul really defines and describes what Christian love is all about.

     Paul begins his description with several ‘ifs,’ each describing wonderful abilities or accomplishments.  If, he says, I have great spiritual powers, such great faith as to even move mountains; and if, he says, I am very generous and give everything I have to the poor; and even if, he says, I am willing to sacrifice my life; even if I am willing to do all that, if I do not also have love, Paul says, it is all worth nothing and I gain nothing.  In the last verse, he says love is the greatest attribute of all.  And in between the opening verses, and that concluding verse, Paul describes what Christian love is and does.  He uses words like patience and kindness, truth and trust, hope and perseverance.  That is what love is like, says Paul, and then he adds a few words about what love is not like.  Love does not envy and it does not boast and it is not proud.  Love is not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeps no record of wrongs.  That’s a powerful list, and each word is worth pondering for a while, thinking about how one does or does not fulfill that call to Christian love.

     But it is a wicked world, and such love is not always returned.  So there is one phrase in this chapter I wish Paul would have explained a little more because I’m not sure what he meant.  I am not questioning the Bible, and I’m sure Paul could clarify my problem with this otherwise wonderful passage.  I’m just saying there is one part I don’t understand.  In verse eight Paul says, “Love never fails.”  This is where I have the problem.  As I said, it is a wicked world, and I see love failing all the time, don’t you?  There is love that is not returned, love taken advantage of, love betrayed, love denied, and love rejected.  We see love failing all over the place.  Jesus himself faced the rejection of the love he wanted to show.  That doesn’t mean we stop loving.  It certainly did not stop Jesus.  Every act of love makes the world a better place, and our Lord commands us to be loving, as He Himself is.  But it does not seem realistic to say love never fails.  

     I am sure Paul would have a good answer to my question.  Perhaps he means when both people in a relationship have a love like the love he describes, they cannot fail; or perhaps he means that God in heaven will remember and honor every act of love; or perhaps he means that love in general will not fail to make the world a better place.  Any of that could be possible.  But he doesn’t say that, and I would like a more complete definition because I am sure every one us can tell of love or good deeds given that did fail to get love or good will in return, and, we can no doubt remember our own failures.  Love does fail.

     Paul isn’t here to clarify this, but I am reminded of a story that was in Guideposts magazine some years ago.  It was written by a woman whose children were now grown and on their own.  Many years before, early in their marriage, she and her husband were living on the West Coast.  He was in the army and they had two small children.  About the time that the boys were starting school, the army sent that husband and father to serve in Japan for a year.  It was a close family and they were dreading his absence for that long, but they all promised to write back and forth often.  The husband did write regularly and his wife and children loved to read the letters.  They also always wrote, and all were counting the days until his return.

     But then all of a sudden the letters from Japan stopped coming.  One week, two weeks, three weeks; there were no letters.  Finally a letter did come to the wife which said, “Dear Margaret, no matter what I write here you are going to be brokenhearted before this letter is over.  I am sorry, Margaret, but I will not be coming back home.  I have fallen in love with someone here, and we are going to get married.  Please tell the children that I will not be returning.”

     Love failing.   (continued…)

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Almighty and most merciful God, who hast given us a new commandment that we should love one another, give us also grace that we may fulfill it.  Make us gentle, courteous, and patient.  Direct our lives so that we may each look to the good of others in word and deed; for the sake of him who loved us and gave himself for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. 

–B. F. Westcott, Bishop and Bible scholar, (1825-1901)

985) The Gift of the Magi (part two of two)

     (…continued)  At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

     Jim was never late.  Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered.  Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment.  She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered:  “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.” 

     The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it.  He looked thin and very serious.  Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two— and to be burdened with a family!  He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

     Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail.  His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her.  It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for.  He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

     Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

     “Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way.  I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present.  It’ll grow out again— you won’t mind, will you?  I just had to do it.  My hair grows awfully fast.  Say ‘Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy.  You don’t know what a nice— what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

     “You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

     “Cut it off and sold it,” said Della.  “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow?  I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

     Jim looked about the room curiously.

     “You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

     “You needn’t look for it,” said Della.  “It’s sold, I tell you— sold and gone, too.  It’s Christmas Eve, boy.  Be good to me, for it went for you.  Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you.  Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

     Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake.  He enfolded his Della…  (Then) Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

     “Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me.  I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less.  But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

     White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper.  And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

     For there lay The Combs—the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshiped long in a Broadway window.  Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jeweled rims— just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair.  They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession.  And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

     But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say:  “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

     And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

     Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present.  She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm.  The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

     “Isn’t it a dandy, Jim?  I hunted all over town to find it.  You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now.  Give me your watch.  I want to see how it looks on it.”

     Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

   “Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while.  They’re too nice to use just at present.  I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.  And now suppose you put the chops on.”

     The magi, as you know, were wise men— wonderfully wise men— who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger.  They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.  Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication.  And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house.  But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.  O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest.  Everywhere they are wisest.  They are the magi.

The Gift of the Magi (shortened a bit), O. Henry, 1905 

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I Corinthians 13:4-7…13  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

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SPOUSES’ PRAYER FOR EACH OTHER:

Lord Jesus, grant that I and my spouse may have a true and understanding love for each other. Grant that we may both be filled with faith and trust.  Give us the grace to live with each other in peace and harmony.  May we always bear with one another’s weaknesses and grow from each other’s strengths.  Help us to forgive one another’s failings and grant us patience, kindness, cheerfulness and the spirit of placing the well-being of one another ahead of self.  May the love that brought us together grow and mature with each passing year.  Bring us both ever closer to You through our love for each other.  Let our love grow to perfection.  Amen.

–www.catholic.org/prayers

984) The Gift of the Magi (part one of two)

The Christmas story has inspired a million more stories.  One of my favorites is The Gift of the Magi, a 1905 short story by O. Henry.  The story of the birth of Jesus is a story of God’s love and sacrifice.  O. Henry tells this wonderful story of love and sacrifice in a marriage.  Most of you probably read this story in high school English class, but perhaps have not read it since then.  Take the time to do so now in these next two meditations.  One of the things good literature can do is to make you want to be a better person.  This story does that.

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     One dollar and eighty-seven cents.  That was all.  And sixty cents of it was in pennies.  Pennies saved one and two at a time…  Three times Della counted it.  One dollar and eighty-seven cents.  And the next day would be Christmas.

     There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl.  So Della did it.  Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

     While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home.  A furnished flat at $8 per week…  In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring…  But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della.  Which is all very good.

     Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag.  She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.  Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present.  She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result.  Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far.  Expenses had been greater than she had calculated.  They always are.  Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim.  Her Jim.  Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him.  Something fine and rare and sterling— something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

     There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room.  Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat.  A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks.  Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

     Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass.  Her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds.  Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

    Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride.  One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s.  The other was Della’s hair.  Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts.  Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

     So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters.  It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her.  And then she did it up again nervously and quickly.  Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

     On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat.  With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

     Where she stopped the sign read:  “Madame Sofronie.  Hair Goods of All Kinds.”  One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting.  Madame, large, too white, chilly…

     “Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

     “I buy hair,” said Madame.  “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

     Down rippled the brown cascade.  “Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.

     “Give it to me quick,” said Della.

     Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings…  She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

     She found it at last.  It surely had been made for Jim and no one else.  There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out.  It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation— as all good things should do.  It was even worthy of The Watch.  As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s.  It was like him.  Quietness and value— the description applied to both.  Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents.  With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company.  Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

     When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason.  She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love.  Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends— a mammoth task.

     Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look like a truant schoolboy.  She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

     “If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl.  But what could I do— oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”   (continued…)

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Proverbs 31:10-12  —  A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.  Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.

Ephesians 5:25  —  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

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 Make us always eager, Lord, to share the good things that we have.  Grant us such a measure of your Spirit that we may find more joy in giving than in getting.  Make us ready to give cheerfully without grudging, secretly without praise, and in sincerity without looking for gratitude, for Christ’s sake.  Amen.  

–John Hunter, Scottish pastor  (1849-1917)

841) Love Your Enemy

From a column by Andree Seu, World magazine, November 1, 2008, page 87, referring to a conversation she was told about.

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     “Is your husband an enemy?” Elisabeth Elliot said to me.  “Does your husband feel like your enemy?”

     “Yes.”

     “What does the Bible say about how to treat your enemies? . . .  Love them.  Do good for them.  Pray for them.”

     “Do good,” I thought.  Could it really be that simple?

     I set my mind to do one good thing for George every day.  In the name of the Lord.  I couldn’t do it for George, but I could do it in obedience to God.  George is my husband and my enemy, and this is the Lord’s command to me.

     I started with a spice cake, George’s favorite dessert.  Simple enough.  But as I did these things, I just became so broken.  Had I really been so, so selfish, and thoughtless all these years, that these little things could mean so much?  Gradually, I saw my true heart as George had seen it all these years– so cold and bitter and awful.  Was I really as bad as this?  Yes.  Yes.

     Finally I was broken.  Over time, compassion for George replaced bitterness.  And dare I say it, even love begins to grow.  Glimpses of delight?  Yes, even that.  God began to show me how He loves George too, and just how foolish I have been.  I feel like Isaiah 61 is coming to pass:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: beauty for ashes; gladness for mourning; a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

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Matthew 5:43-45a  —  (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

Luke 6:32-33  —  (Jesus said), “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.  And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners do that.”

Luke 6:27-28  —  (Jesus said), “But to you who are listening I say:  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Romans 12:21  —  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

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My Lord Jesus, look at how my neighbor has injured me, slandered my honor with his talk, and interfered with my rights.  I cannot tolerate this, and so I wish he were out of my way.  O God, hear my complaint.  I cannot feel kindly toward him, even though I know I should.  See how cold and insensible I am.  O Lord, I can’t help it, and so I stand forsaken.  If you change me, I will be devout and have better thoughts.  Otherwise, I must remain as I am.  O dear God, change me by your grace.  Amen.

–Martin Luther  (1483-1546)

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