1517) The Mind Is Its Own Place

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     Elizabeth was a 92-year-old, petite, well-poised, and proud lady.  She and her husband managed to live all seventy years of their married life in their own home, though in the last several years they had to depend much on each other.  When Elizabeth’s husband died, she knew she would have to move into a care center.  

     Her son brought her to the nursing home, but he had to leave before his mother’s room was ready.  Because of some mistake by the staff, Elizabeth waited for over two hours in the lobby before she could move in.  Still, she smiled sweetly when the admissions director finally called her name.  As Elizabeth maneuvered her walker to the elevator, the director provided a visual description of her small, simple room.  There wasn’t much to describe.

     “I love it,” Elizabeth said with the enthusiasm of an eight-year-old having just been presented with a new puppy.

     “Mrs. Jones, you haven’t even seen the room yet.  Maybe you should wait…”

     “I don’t have to see it,” Elizabeth interrupted.  “I know it will be just fine, and that I will be very happy there.  Happiness, after all,  is something you decide on ahead of time.  Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how big the room is, or how fancy, or how the furniture is arranged.  It depends on how I arrange my mind.”

     Elizabeth paused, and then went on to say, “I have already decided to love it.  This is like the decision I make every morning when I wake up.  I always have a choice.  I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or, I can get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do.  Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day.  And if I have nothing else to do, I will think about all the happy memories I have stored away for just this time in my life.”

–author unknown

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“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, or a Hell of Heaven.”

–John Milton, English poet, blind for the last 22 years of his life, (1608-1674), from  Paradise Lost, Book I.

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Philippians 4:10-14  —  I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me.  Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.  Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

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This is another day, O Lord; I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.

–Book of Common Prayer

1506) Challenge Accepted

     The strongest argument for the Gospel of Christ is the personal testimony of someone whose life has been changed by it.  The changed lives of Christians does not prove the historical truth of Christianity, but it is an important piece of supportive evidence; and, it is consistent with the Biblical promises and descriptions of what can happen when someone comes to faith in Jesus Christ.

     In the later part of the nineteenth century, political activist Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891) was one of the most outspoken atheists in London.  During those same years, down in one of the slums of London, was a Christian evangelist by the name of Hugh Price Hughes (1847-1902).  Hughes was investing his life in the poor people of London.  He had gone to those who were alcoholics and others who did not have a place in society.  He started homes for women who had been abused, and many other ministries to those who were down and out.  All London was aware of the miracles of grace accomplished at his rescue mission.

     The atheist Charles Bradlaugh publicly challenged this Rev. Hughes to a debate on the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.  Both men were well known, and London was greatly interested.  What would Hughes do?  Hughes told Bradlaugh he would agree to the debate on one condition.

     Bradlaugh was a lawyer, and Hughes pointed out that in a court of law you are always allowed to bring witnesses.  Hughes therefore agreed to debate Bradlaugh if Hughes could bring one hundred witnesses-– people whose lives had been changed because of the existence of God and the truth of Christianity.  They would be people who once lived deep in sin, some having come from poverty-stricken homes caused by the vices of their parents.  Hughes said these people would not only tell of their conversion and how their lives have been improved since trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but would also submit to cross-examination by any who doubted their stories.  

     Hughes told Bradlaugh that he could also bring one hundred witnesses, non-believers whose lives had been changed because there was no God, and they could tell how they have been helped by their lack of faith.  Hughes said, “I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching.  I will bring one hundred such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same.  If you cannot bring one hundred, Mr. Bradlaugh, to match my one hundred, I will be satisfied if you will bring fifty men and women who will stand and testify that they have been lifted up from lives of shame by the influence of your teachings.  And if you cannot bring fifty, then bring twenty people who will say, as my one hundred will, that they have a great joy in a life of self-respect as a result of your atheistic teachings.  And if you cannot bring twenty, I will be satisfied if you bring ten.  Nay, Mr. Bradlaugh, I challenge you to bring even one, just one man or woman who will make such a testimony regarding the uplifting of your atheistic teachings.”  All Bradlaugh had to do was to find one person whose life was improved be atheism, and Hughes, who could bring one hundred people improved by Christ, would agree to debate him.

     Mr. Bradlaugh withdrew his challenge.

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Hugh Price Hughes

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The ‘evidence;’ early residents of the West London Mission whose lives were improved by knowing Jesus

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“It is because the spirit of Christ has not been introduced into public life that Europe is in a perilous condition today. . . My wish is to apply Christianity to every aspect of life.”

–Hugh Price Hughes, in Social Christianity, 1890.

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The West London Mission continues to serve the needy today.  This is from their website:  

The West London Mission was established in 1887 as part of a new initiative within Methodism – the mission movement, which combined evangelism with radical social action.  The driving force behind WLM was the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes.  The opening service was held in October 1887 in St James’ Hall, Piccadilly, and over 2,000 would come to services each Sunday.  At that time the West End was rife with poverty and vice alongside great wealth and riches.  WLM developed a wide range of ‘social rescue’ alongside their religious activities.  Early work included ministering to the sick, a dispensary, a nursery, children’s clubs, a soup kitchen, a ‘poor man’s lawyer’ and a hospice.  Hostels and homes were run for unmarried mothers and their babies, ex-offenders, those on bail, elderly people, and recovering alcoholics– all pioneering projects long before any general public provision.  Professional social work of high standard, alongside a worshipping centre and a strong Christian motivation are WLM principles that continue today.

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I Peter 3:14-16  —  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”  But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Romans 12:9-13  —  Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.  Practice hospitality.

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O loving Father, we pray for all who get left behind in the race of life.  We pray for those worn with sickness and misery, those wasted with addiction, for the dying, and for all unhappy children.  May they come to know the suffering love of Christ, and may they have a heart that trusts you even in the dark.  We ask this in the name of Him who took our infirmaties upon himself, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

–A. T. Fisher  (1906-1988), Chaplain, Magdalen College, Oxford.

1440) A Verse to Build a Life On

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Adapted from 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World, By William and Randy Peterson, pages 73-4, Revel publishing, 2001.

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     At age 22 William Penn had everything.  He was the son of a respected British admiral, had gone to Oxford, had traveled throughout Europe, and was an expert marksman.  He was also handsome, popular, and on the verge of a bright and lucrative career in law.  In addition, Penn’s family was rich.  His father had sent him to Ireland to manage the family properties there that would someday be his.  There he faced a mutiny, and enjoyed putting down the rebellion so much, that he considered a career in the military.  It seemed every option was available to him.

     What he chose shocked everyone.  He chose to become a Quaker, the least understood, most despised, and most persecuted religious group in England.  They dissented against and refused to take part in the official Church of England.  They also refused to take oaths, and thus, would not swear allegiance to king or country.  The authorities frowned on this, so for William Penn to choose this route would most certainly limit his other options.

     Most Quakers were passive and bore persecution quietly, but not William Penn.  He was used to being in control; he had, after all, put down that rebellion in Ireland.  He  was not quiet about his religious beliefs, and was arrested and imprisoned several times.

     He always spoke in his own defense, challenging the British legal system.  He wrote books, arguing that it was counterproductive for a great nation like Britain to deny religious freedom.  His mighty words would get him out of jail, but he made no impact on the British legal system.  Finally, he grew tired of the conflict.  He, like many others, longed for a new start in America.

     The king owed Penn’s late father a large sum of money and had not yet paid it back.  Instead of payment, Penn asked for a grant of land in the New World.  In the middle of the colonies there was a chunk of land that seemed worthless to King Charles, so it seemed to him to provide an opportunity to not only pay off a debt, but also to get rid of some dissenters.  The land was given to William Penn.  He, along with many more Quakers, went there.  Eventually, the place became known as Pennsylvania.

     Penn planned to establish a “Holy Settlement” in Pennsylvania to show that faith could really create a new society.  Its chief city would be ‘Philadelphia,’ Greek for ‘city of brotherly love.’  Penn would show the world what people of goodwill could do when guided by their Christian faith.

     His settlement had much success in the early years, not the least of which was a perfect relationship with the Native Americans in the area.  While neighboring colonies were constantly raiding and being raided by Indians, not one drop of Quaker blood was shed.  This is because from the beginning, William Penn assured the Native Americans of his good will and respect, and his intention to be fair and honest with them in everything.  He never went back on his word.

     William Penn’s ‘Holy Experiment’ did not last much beyond his lifetime.  Without his leadership, the Quakers started fighting among themselves.  They did not have Penn’s power and goodwill to meet the many challenges of life in the New World.  So while the whole of his dream failed, one part, the promise of religious freedom was catching on.  This New World idea found its fullest expression in Pennsylvania, and because it was working there, the idea was adopted in America’s Bill of Rights, signed a century later in William Penn’s own Philadelphia.

     What was it that changed William Penn from the powerful and skilled young lawyer who seemed to have the world at his fingertips, to a religious dissenter and an outcast among his own people?  It was a Bible verse.  When Penn was 22 years old, he heard a sermon preached on I John 5:4 which says, “And this is what gives us the victory that overcomes the world– it is our faith.”  Penn wrote later that it was that sermon, on that verse, that changed him, setting his life off in a whole new direction.  It was to be a path that would lead to a profound influence on the founding of this new nation.

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I John 5:3-5  —  This is love for God: to keep his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Matthew 5:14  —  You are the light of the world.  A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

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FUNERAL PRAYER BY WILLIAM PENN (1644-1718):

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

1439) “On My Way to Heaven”

My Brother_s Keeper

We hear much about Christians, who did nothing while the Holocaust was going on all around them.  But not all Christians were passive in the face of this great evil.  Rod Gragg’s My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust (2016) details the extraordinary courage of 30 ordinary people who believed Jewish lives mattered and did extraordinary things to preserve them. Among the heroes: Scottish schoolteacher Jane Haining, who, when the Nazis came, stayed with her students at a predominantly Jewish boarding school in Budapest, Hungary.  The excerpt that follows was taken from chapter 25 of that book.

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     When she heard the wail of approaching sirens, Jane Haining knew what it meant: the Nazis were coming.  The date was April 4, 1944, and Haining was a Scottish schoolteacher in Budapest, Hungary, presiding over a boarding school composed mainly of Jewish children.  Teaching and caring for her Jewish students was Jane Haining’s life work.  It was a call that she had accepted as a Christian more than twelve years earlier.  In 1932, she had been a thirty-four-year-old single woman working as a secretary in a textile factory in Scotland.  She was a member of the Church of Scotland, and one night she attended a life-changing church missions program.  There she learned about a church ministry in Hungary that included a school for Jewish orphans.  Turning to a friend sitting beside her, she stated confidently, “I have found my life-work.”

     Haining had a delicate appearance that belied a strong Scottish personality and a bold faith in Jesus Christ.  She had grown up in a large farming family, had lost her mother when she was only five, and had acquired an independent spirit and a zeal for learning.  A bright student in her village grammar school, she was awarded a scholarship to a highly regarded Scottish academy, and then attended college in Glasgow and Edinburgh.  She had become a Christian as a girl, had taught Sunday school while still a teenager, and was elated at the opportunity to become headmaster of the girls’ elementary program at the Scottish school in Budapest.

     She thrived there.  She already spoke German, quickly learned to speak fluent Hungarian, and—despite a no-nonsense style in the classroom—soon became a beloved figure to her Jewish students, many of whom were orphans.  “She was a very sympathetic person,” a former student later recalled.  “So kind.  So good.  Everyone loved her very much.”

     She returned the affection.  Perhaps because she had lost her mother at an early age, she had a tender heart for children and especially for orphans.  “We have one new little six-year-old, an orphan without a mother or a father,” she wrote in a letter home.  “She is such a pathetic wee soul to look at, and I fear, poor lamb, has not been in good surroundings… She certainly does look as though she needs heaps and heaps of love.”  About another child she wrote, “We have one nice little mite who is an orphan and is coming to school for the first time.  She seems to be a lonely little soul and needs lots of love.  We shall see what we can do to make life happier for her… What a ghastly feeling it must be to know that no one wants you.”

     As Nazism spread through Europe and war erupted, the Scottish boarding school in Budapest became a sanctuary for its Jewish students.  “Anti-Semitism presented itself in many places and forms in those times,” recalled a former student decades later, “but in the Scottish school I never sensed it either from the teachers or another student, either directly or indirectly.  The school was a warm nest.”

     …Hitler ordered German troops to invade Hungary in March of 1944 and installed a fascist puppet government…  Hitler also demanded that Hungary’s eight hundred thousand Jews be deported for annihilation as part of the Nazi Final Solution…  Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann arrived in Budapest the day the German army invaded, and with a contingent of six hundred troops took command of the Jewish deportations.  Within ten days of his arrival, Hungarian Jews were forbidden to travel, use telephones, do any work besides common labor, or withdraw money from their bank accounts—and they were all ordered to wear a yellow cloth Star of David on their clothing.  Soon thousands of Jews were being assembled in Budapest and herded into railway boxcars for deportation to Auschwitz and other death camps.

     As she sewed the yellow stars on her students’ clothing, Jane Haining wept.  Upon learning that the German army had invaded Hungary, officials in the Church of Scotland ordered Haining and the other Scots who worked at the Budapest mission to immediately return home, but she refused.  To her, the Jewish schoolgirls she taught were her ‘daughters.’  “If these children need me in the days of sunshine,” she explained, “how much more will they need me in the days of darkness?”  It was wrong, Haining declared, “to distinguish one child of one race and the child of another.”  Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  As a British citizen, she was viewed as an enemy by the Nazi invaders, and an informer soon reported her opinions to the Gestapo.

     As Budapest’s Jewish families were rounded up for deportation, she tried to reassure the children, and kept up a brave face.  If her Jewish students were going to be deported to some terrible fate, Jane Haining was determined to go with them.  She did—and the Nazis took her first.  When the Gestapo came for her, they came in a car with a blaring siren, arrested her, and took her away… The children cried for her as they stood outside the school and watched her get into the Gestapo car. She was sentenced to deportation, and was loaded into a cattle car with the Jews of Hungary whom she had come to serve and had grown to love.

     Her destination was the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz…  In the early summer of 1944, more than four thousand Hungarian Jews were being killed at Auschwitz every day; and Jane Haining was among them.  German authorities notified the Church of Scotland that Haining had died of illness; other evidence, however, revealed that she was executed with Hungarian Jewish women in a gas chamber at Auschwitz on August 16, 1944.

     By the summer of 1944, most Jews were killed immediately upon arrival at Auschwitz, but as a political prisoner Haining was imprisoned for about two months before she was executed…  Prisoners were fed a starvation diet of meager vegetable broth, were awakened at four thirty a.m. for a grueling twelve-hour workday, and slept on wooden racks in rooms that were crowded far beyond their intended capacity.  For Jews especially, the labor was intentionally so brutal that many prisoners quickly died of exhaustion.

     In the few weeks before her death, Haining was allowed to write a postcard to her superiors at the Church of Scotland.  Her telling observation reflected her understanding of what lay ahead for her—in this life and afterward: “There is not much to report here on my way to heaven.”

     …In January 1945, Soviet forces reached the Polish city of Kraków and liberated Auschwitz…  When Soviet troops captured the giant camp, they found only about seven thousand prisoners still alive. Some of Jane Haining’s Jewish students somehow survived the Holocaust, and they never forgot her. “Those children adored her,” one recalled. “She was a real mother of her ‘daughters.’”

     After Haining’s death, her Bible was discovered at the school. In it was a bookmark, and on it—in her handwriting—was a Bible verse from the New Testament book of Mark: “Be not afraid, only believe.”

Associated Press

Some children that survived Auschwitz and were liberated in January 1945

Photo by Yad Vashem/Center Street

Jane Haining  (1897-1944)

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Mark 5:36b  —  (Jesus said), “Be not afraid, only believe.”

Genesis 4:9b  —   “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Matthew 19:14a  —  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.”

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O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace.  Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg, 1978, (prayer #166)

1438) What Hath God Wrought?

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     Have you checked your cell phone lately?  Do you have a computer in your home?  Do you ever look up anything on the internet, watch television, or listen to the radio?  If so, you can thank Samuel Morse (1791-1872), the “Father of American Telecommunications,” a Christian man who wanted to make sure God received all the glory.

     Samuel Morse showed excellent promise as an artist.  A career in art was recommended to him by one of the greatest artists of his day, Gilbert Stuart.  Morse’s father sent him off to Europe where he could receive the very best art education.  He did quite well for a young man, even having some of his work exhibited in London’s Royal Academy.  But when he came back to America he faced a series of tragedies.  His father, his mother, and his young wife all died within a brief period of time.  Along with all that, he was going broke, unable to make a living as a painter in America.  So he got on a ship to return to Europe where he had enjoyed at least some success and profit from his work.

     Aboard ship he heard some men discussing new experiments with something called ‘electromagnetism.’  Morse picked up on the idea quickly and caught on to the principles they were describing.  He said, “If the presence of electricity can be made visible in any part of a circuit, I see no reason why intelligence could not be transmitted instantaneously by electricity.”  Morse was a fast learner and an innovator, and before the ship landed in Europe he had developed a plan to make it work.  In 1837 he applied for a patent on his ideas.  He also created the Morse Code as a way of communicating the letters of the alphabet with dots and dashes.

     Now he needed the money to get his idea from the drawing board to reality, but this was going to be a problem.  People laughed in his face when he told them what he had in mind, and he could not find anyone to give him any money.  For six long years he sought backing in the United States and in Europe.  All the while, he struggled financially.  He was an outstanding artist who could not make enough money at that; and he was an inventor with an invention he believed would change the world, but he could convince no one to back him.

     Finally, in 1843, the US Congress awarded him thirty-thousand dollars to build a telegraphic line from Baltimore to Washington, D.C.  He was done within a year.  His first message was a Bible verse, Numbers 23:23, “What hath God wrought!;” or, see what God has done!

     The verse was a description of how Samuel Morse saw his work.  He saw his invention simply as the discovery of how to use one aspect of God’s wonderful creation.  He said of his first electronically transmitted message: “‘What hath God wrought!  That verse expresses the disposition of my mind at this time.  I wanted to ascribe all the honor to the one to whom it truly belongs.”

     Within months lines were being built and telegraphic communications were sweeping the nation.  Soon, businesses, newspapers, railroads, and governments were all depending on Morse’s invention.

   Today’s modern communications network, including telephones, computers, email, the internet, GPS, and everything else, are all developments of the basic idea Morse had to transmit information electronically.

     In those hopeless years when no one believed in him, Morse said that it was some words of Jesus that sustained him (Matthew 6:28): “If I clothe the lilies of the field, shall I not also cloth you?”  Morse said at that time, “My only gleam of hope is confidence in God.  When I look upward it calms any fear of the future, and I will wait patiently for the Lord.”

     Near the end of his life, he wrote, “The nearer I approach the end of my pilgrimage, the clearer to me is the evidence for the divine origin of the Bible, the more I appreciate God’s remedy for fallen mankind, and the more my future is filled with hope and joy.”

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Education without religion is in danger of substituting wild theories for the simple commonsense rules of Christianity.

–Samuel Morse

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Numbers 23:23b  —  “What hath God wrought!”  King James Version   (“See what God has done.”  New International Version)

Isaiah 24:15a  —  Therefore,…  give glory to the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 7:25a  —  I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things…

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AN EVENING SONG OF PRAISE:

All praise to thee, my God, this night,
for all the blessings of the light!
Keep me, O keep me, King of kings,
beneath thine own almighty wings…

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
praise him, all creatures here below;
praise him above, ye heavenly host;
praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

–Thomas Ken (1637-1711)

1433) In God We Trust

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Bombardment of Fort McHenry, September 13-14, 1814; painting by Peter Rindlisbacher

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     Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) is best known for writing the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner,” our national anthem.  What is not so well know is that embedded within the lyrics of that great song was one phrase that also would have great significance for our nation.  Here’s the story.

     The war of 1812 was still going strong in 1814.  In that year, British forces stormed, bombed, and burned our capitol city, Washington, D.C.   The White House, the Capitol, and many other government buildings were in flames, and government officials had fled into Virginia.

     The British were attacking from the East, at Fort McHenry on the Chesapeake Bay.   If that fort fell, the British would go into Baltimore, and the new nation would be in great danger.  It was a desperate situation.

     Francis Scott Key was an American, but he was on a British warship, negotiating the release of a friend of President Monroe who was being held as a prisoner of war.  He had completed the negotiations and won the man’s release when the bombardment of Ft. McHenry started.  He would not be free to go back to American lines until the battle was over.  But what a view he would have of it!  He was out in the bay with all the British ships, watching the pounding they were giving the fort with their big cannons.  Could Fort McHenry survive?  He would know in the morning by seeing what flag was flying above the fort.

     Then, “By the dawn’s early light,” the flag, “what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,” was still flying, “broad stripes and bright stars,” and all.  Key was inspired to write down a few lines of a poem on that back of an old envelope he had in his pocket.

     Later on in the day, Key polished up the poem a bit and showed it to some friends.   They liked it, had it printed on handbills, and soon copies were being distributed all around the city.  A week after the battle the Baltimore newspaper published it, along with the tune of a popular drinking song.  The song’s popularity grew over the years, and in 1931 it was named our national anthem.

     Now for the ‘rest of the story.’  Seldom does anyone ever sing the last verse of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, but in that last verse are these two lines:

Then conquer we must, when our cause is just;

And this be our motto, “In God is our Trust.”

     When Key wrote those words, he had in mind Psalm 143:8 which reads as follows:  “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for in Thee do I trust.”  When he put those words into the song, he called it our motto.  At the time, this was more wishful thinking than anything else.  The United States had no national motto at the time, nor did they have any plans to establish one.

     Fifty years after the war of 1812 the words In God We Trust started appearing on our coins.  Then in 1956, that phrase was officially declared our national motto.  Not everyone is happy about that anymore, but it is still there, and it came from the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key, and Psalm 143:8.

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This two cent piece, minted 1864-1873, was the first coin to include the In God We Trust motto.

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Psalm 143:8  —  Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you.  Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.

Psalm 20:7  —  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Psalm 56:11  —  In God I trust and am not afraid.  What can man do to me?

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PSALM 71:1-3:

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
    turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge,
    to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

1432) The Ragged Schools

Robert Raikes Robert Raikes 17351811 by Granger

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     Robert Raikes (1735-1811) was a newspaper editor in Gloucester, England.  His editorials often had to do with the problems of the poor children in that city.  Popular opinion at the time said it was necessary to keep what was considered the ‘crude and vulgar members’ of society in their proper place; and the proper place for many of the poor and vulgar children was the factory where they worked six days a week, ten hours a day.  

     The problem came on Sundays when the factories were closed and the children were on the streets.  With all their pent up energy they were creating a regular hell on earth for the whole community.  The kids were all out, every Sunday, cursing and swearing, fighting and stealing, breaking things and bothering everyone.  They did not attend church or school, and they could not read or write.  Raikes, like everyone else, was shocked at their language and behavior.  But what could be done?

     In 1880 Raikes started a Sunday morning school for these children, who were working every other day.  This ‘Sooty Alley School,’ as in dirt and soot, wasn’t in a church.  No church would allow such hooligans in the doors.  One Sunday when Raikes tried to take a few boys to church, they caused such a disturbance with their fighting and swearing that they were asked to leave.

     Raikes went door to door asking parents if they would allow their children to attend his new school.  Any kind of ‘free school’ was still unheard of in England, as school was only for those who could pay for it.  But people were impressed by this sincere, well-dressed man, and many agreed to send their children.  Raikes hired a teacher, and ninety children came the first Sunday.

     Raikes himself wondered if it could work. These kids were already like outlaws and gangsters.  But he tried one school, and then another, and then a few more.  Soon there were eight schools, with about thirty students in each, in what he called his “experiment.”  Raikes took care of all the expenses, and kept it on this small scale for three years.

     The kids were taught Bible stories, the catechism, and hymns, along with a little bit of reading and a little bit of math.  Raikes would also feed them a little beef and a bit of plum pudding.  He also found them decent clothes when he could.  He was pleasantly surprised to see many of them respond in a positive way.  He said, “I cannot express the pleasure I often receive in discovering the goodness and even genius among this little multitude.”

     After three years he decided to publicize the experiment and encourage others to try it.  That was then the opposition struck.  Members of parliament were shocked at the idea.  A bill was suggested for the suppression of Sunday Schools.  Clergymen also objected to the whole idea, with the Archbishop of Canterbury organizing a task force to see how these Sunday Schools could be stopped.  

     It is hard for us now to imagine the church being opposed to these Sunday Schools.  People were calling them the “ragged schools” because of the ragged clothing the children wore.  There was very little concern in proper society for the welfare of these street children.  People thought was fine for them to work all week in the factories, and on Sunday what they needed was law enforcement, not Church and Sunday School.  Church people based their objections primarily on the third commandment, saying it was wrong for Robert Raikes to hire teachers to work on the Sabbath.

     But Raikes responded with Matthew 12:11-12 where Jesus said, “If you have a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath Day, you will certainly do whatever work it takes to get it out.”  Raikies said these kids were in a pit.  They were in desperate circumstances.  They were made to work all week, and Sunday was the only chance they had for anything better.  Certainly, Jesus would not object to helping children on the Sabbath Day when he clearly said it is all right to help sheep on that day.

     Children were responding positively to what they learned in Sunday School, and eventually the people of the city began to notice that the streets were quieter on Sunday.  There was less stealing.  The children’s hearts were being changed by God’s Word and many became Christians.

     The opposition failed, and the Sunday School idea caught on.  Within four years there were 250,000 children in Sunday Schools all across England, and crime rates dropped dramatically.  Raikes wrote in his newspaper, “In those parishes where the plan has been adopted, we are assured the behavior of the children is greatly civilized.”

     It was at this time that the United States of America was gaining its independence, and the Sunday School movement had a lot to do with evangelizing this new nation.  By 1900 America had eight million Sunday School students, with an equal number elsewhere in the world.  In the twentieth century the numbers continued to multiply.

     Sunday School is now a taken for granted part of Sunday morning at church.  It is hard to believe such an idea could have been opposed, but a determined man with the right Bible verse defeated the opposition.

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Matthew 19:14  —  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 12:11-12  —   (Jesus) said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Joel 1:3  —  Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.

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 Heavenly Father, you have blessed us with the joy and care of children.  Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may teach them to love whatever is just and true and good, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

1403) Bad White Cop Frames Innocent Black Man; and Then…

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The bad white cop and the innocent black man– why are they smiling?

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     While many non-Christians in our society are becoming increasingly anti-Christian, the power of Christian forgiveness can still astound and inspire everyone.  No other belief system has the equivalent of forgiving your brother “seventy times seven,” much less commands you to love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.  This radical nature of Christian forgiveness is so startling and so overwhelming, that it made the CBS Evening News.

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Watch the video here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/on-the-road-innocent-michigan-man-ends-up-working-alongside-crooked-cop-that-locked-him/

Or read the transcript from CBS:

     It all went down on a block in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  Back in 2005, Jameel McGee says he was minding his own business when a police officer accused him of, and arrested him for, dealing drugs.

     “It was all made up,” said McGee.  Of course, a lot of accused men make that claim, but not many arresting officers agree.

     “I falsified the report,” former Benton Harbor police officer Andrew Collins admitted.

     “Basically, at the start of that day, I was going to make sure I had another drug arrest.”  And in the end, he put an innocent guy in jail.

     “I lost everything,” McGeee said.  “My only goal was to seek him when I got out and to hurt him.”

     Eventually, that crooked cop was caught, and served a year and a half for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing.  Of course McGee was exonerated, but he still spent four years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

     Today both men are back in Benton Harbor, which is a small town (population 10,000).  Maybe a little too small.

     Last year, by sheer coincidence, they both ended up at faith-based employment agency Mosaic, where they now work side by side in the same café.  And it was in those cramped quarters that the bad cop and the wrongfully accused had no choice but to have it out.

     “I said, ‘Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry,'” Collins explained.

     McGee says that was all it took.  “That was pretty much what I needed to hear.”

     Today they’re not only cordial, they’re friends.  Such close friends, not long ago McGee actually told Collins he loved him.

     “And I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that.  I don’t deserve that,” Collins said.

     But he didn’t forgive just for his sake, even for Collins’.  “For our sake,” McGee said. “Not just us, but for all our sake.”  McGee went on to tell CBS News about his Christian faith, and his hope for a kinder mankind.  He wants to be an example; so now he and Collins give speeches together about the importance of forgiveness and redemption.

     And clearly, if these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?

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     Collins is right when he says forgiveness, and the healing it brings in its wake, has nothing to do with “deserve.”  As McGee, a Christian, understood, we forgive one another because, as Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians, God in Christ has forgiven us.  There is a power at work here that even the most hardened skeptic cannot deny.

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Matthew 5:43-44  —  (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.”

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 12:14  —  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

Ephesians 4:32  —  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

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O God of love, who has sent us a new commandment through your Son Jesus Christ, that we should love one another, even as you have loved us, the wayward and unworthy, and has given your Son for our life and salvation; grant to us, your servants, in all the time of our mortal life, a mind forgetful of past ill will, a pure conscience, sincere thoughts, and a heart to love and forgive others.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship, (Presbyterian Church, USA), Westminster, 1906, (altered), originally from The Liturgy of St. Cyril (fourth century).

1401) The Good Samaritan (b)

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     (…continued)  Jesus was also a teacher of morality and goodness.  Jonathan Swift himself was, of course, a servant of that Jesus, so in Gulliver’s Travels he was merely passing on what he learned about life from Jesus; and doing so by telling a story.  Jesus also told stories to teach us how to live, and one of the many such stories he told was the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live?”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

     Did you notice that Jesus isn’t telling us anything new here?  The lesson of the story can be summed up in three words: Help other people.  Jesus wasn’t the first person to say that, nor has he been the only one to say that, nor do you have to be a Christian to do that.  The most important thing about Jesus is not his moral teachings.  Yes, Jesus did teach about obedience and goodness and morality. And yes, he did preach a morality that is beyond even the most famous of history’s moral teachers.  Jesus taught us things like forgiving and praying even for our enemies, and he taught us to do good even to those who do us wrong.  But even those things had been said by a few others.

     What makes Jesus unique is that he is so much more than a moral teacher.  He was the Son of God Himself, here to die for us to forgive us of our sins— because it is impossible for any of us to perfectly fulfill the moral law of God.  God’s commandments were revealed to humanity long before Jesus came to earth.  In fact, Romans 2:15 says that God has written the Law on our very hearts, and even on the hearts of those who have not yet heard of Him.

     So the idea to help others wasn’t new with Jesus.  Neither did Jesus come up with anything new about telling the truth or not stealing or obeying your parents or staying away from false gods or anything else.  It had all been said before.

    What Jesus brought was forgiveness for our failure to obey that moral code, and eternal salvation for all who believed in Him.  That was new with Jesus, and that we can receive only from Jesus.  And no other religious leader rose from the dead to validate their claims and promises, as did Jesus.

     But that doesn’t mean that the story of the Good Samaritan is unimportant.  It just means that it is important for other reasons.  Just because we know what is right, doesn’t mean that we are going to do it.  We all try to get out of it and live only for ourselves as much as we can.  And then we try to justify our disobedience.  We try to convince ourselves that it was necessary, in that situation, to do what was not right.

     The young lawyer who was questioning Jesus in Luke 10 knows very well what is right and what is wrong.  Jesus asked him, “What is written in the Law?”  And the young lawyer answered, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself.”  And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

     But then the lawyer wanted to justify himself, so he said, “But who is my neighbor?”  There is the problem.  The lawyer ‘wanted to justify himself’ (v. 29).

     We all know we should love our neighbor and help each other out, but the lawyer implies that we need to put some limits on that.  We just can’t be helping everybody with everything, can we Jesus?

     But Jesus doesn’t define neighbor and he doesn’t get into the specifics of who we should help and who we don’t have to help.  Jesus simply tells a story, a story of a man who actually needs help, and is in the path of three men who would be able to help.

     What’s more, the one man who does help, the Samaritan, is the last person any Jew would put on their list of ‘neighbors’ to love and serve.  Samaritans and Jews disliked and avoided each other.  But this Samaritan is the one who helped.  At the end of the story, Jesus asked the expert in the law to answer his own question:  “Which of the three was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’

     “The one who had mercy,” said the expert.  What else could he say?  And then Jesus told him to, “Go and do likewise.”

     Jesus shows himself to be very different here from that other ancient teacher of wisdom, Socrates.  Socrates taught not so much by telling other people what to do, but by asking them question after question, thus teaching them to think for themselves.  That also can be a good way to teach, and Jesus also teaches that way sometimes.  He does it for a while in this story, asking the lawyer three questions before he concludes this lesson.

     But the difference between Jesus and Socrates is that Jesus does not end with the questions.  He will not allow us to just talk about our faith.  Jesus applies the lesson and gives everyone something to take home and work on.  “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said to him, thus concluding the lesson.

     I think the young lawyer would have liked Socrates better.  They could have sat around all day just talking about whether or not it was one’s ethical obligation to help a needy man on the road, not ever getting around to actually doing anything.  But Jesus says, “Get at it; there are people who need your help.”  (continued…)

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 Dear God, You constantly pour out Your blessings on us:  help us to be a blessing to others.  You gave us our hands:  help us to use them to work for You.  You gave us our feet:  help us to use them to walk in Your ways.  You gave us our voices:  help us to use them to speak gentleness and truth.  Help us to please You, Lord.  Amen.

–author unknown

1400) Talking Horses (a)

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            The book Gulliver ‘s Travels has been a children’s favorite ever since it was written almost 300 years ago.  In this novel by Jonathan Swift, Lemuel Gulliver is a sea captain who on three different occasions is shipwrecked.  Each time, he finds himself washed ashore on strange and undiscovered islands which no Englishman had ever seen.  Each island is inhabited, but by beings unlike any Gulliver had ever seen.  On the first island, there lives a race of little people, only six inches tall, and Gulliver is a giant among them.  On the next island, there are giants over forty feet tall, and Gulliver is like an insect among them.  On the third island, the people are of a normal size, but there is another, even bigger difference there.  On that island, the humans are like dumb animals, living in the woods like savage beasts, and are not able to speak.  In that land, they are called the yahoos (now you know where that word came from– Swift invented it for this book).  The civilized beings there are the horses.  It is the horses who live in houses and are able to talk with each other and have a civilized life.  Even if you have not read this book, you can well imagine that Gulliver would have had many interesting adventures in these places, making the book a classic for children.

     But the author was not writing only for children.  Swift was a clergyman, and he wrote not primarily for the entertainment of children, but rather to teach adults about such things as human nature, morality, religion, and the good life.  He also included in the book a critical and sarcastic look at English society in the early 1700’s, lampooning its politics, science, churches, and culture.  Therefore, even though people were at first entertained by the format of the book, before long they began to see its hidden meanings, and saw they were laughing at themselves and their own foolishness and sins.  In fact, Swift said he wrote the book “not to divert, but to vex.”

     The most interesting part for me is the final part, in which Gulliver visits the land of the talking horses.  What is fascinating is that these horses have a perfectly moral and good society.  It is unthinkable for any of them to steal, to be in any way mean to anyone, or to be anything less than completely honest.  They do not even have a word for “lying” because a lie is never told among them.  Everyone has complete and total respect for everyone else, and all live at peace, without fear and without harmful vices.  It is a perfect society.  It takes Gulliver a while to get used to talking with horses, but once past the initial awkwardness of that, he doesn’t want to leave them.  When circumstances make it necessary for him to journey back home, he does so with great reluctance and regret.  And then, once back in England, it is difficult for him to again get accustomed to the dishonesty, meanness, and impoliteness of human society that we take for granted.  In fact, Gulliver never adjusts to his previous life, preferring to stay at home alone because he can no longer bear to live with such wickedness.

     Thus, Jonathan Swift, the minister, is teaching his readers about Christian morality in a creative and effective way.  He doesn’t go on and on harshly with ‘Thou shalt not do this, and thou shalt not do that— or else.’  Rather, he simply and winsomely describes a place in which everyone does what is right and there is no sin, and depicts how pleasant it is to live there.  Gulliver can see for himself how wonderful life is in the land of the talking horses.  When he tries to tell the talking horses how life is in England, with everyone trying to take advantage of everyone else by every sort of dishonest trickery, along with damaging their own lives and health and well-being with every sort of vice and sinful pleasure, the horses cannot believe that rational beings would act that way.  And the way Swift describes what we consider normal human life, makes how we live look very foolish and wicked indeed.  Thus, in Gulliver’s Travels, goodness and obedience becomes attractive; whereas so often in our world it often looks as though anyone who wants to be good and do what is right is bound to miss out on all the best life has to offer.

       In this way, Swift teaches both young and old about the blessings of truth and morality and goodness.  (continued…)

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Lemuel Gulliver and the Talking Horses (from an old edition of Gulliver’s Travels)

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Romans 12:2  —  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Psalm 128:1  —  Blessed are all who fear the Lord, who walk in obedience to him.

Deuteronomy 30:15-16  —  See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

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O Lord, we pray that you give us grace not only to be hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word; not only to love, but also to live your Gospel; not only to profess, but also to practice your commandments; for the honor of your holy name.  Amen.  

–Thomas Becon  (1512-1567)