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)

1399) Friends No More

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Josh and Jeff

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Posted by Joshua Rogers, February 6, 2017, at:  www.joshuarogers.com

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     I didn’t have many friends in middle school, but I had Jeffrey Mitchell, and I needed him.

     Some of the popular boys had started making fun of me, so I was growing increasingly uncomfortable in my own skin.  Jeffrey didn’t seem to care.

     We spent time at each other’s houses, hung around each other during recess, and sat next to each other when we had the same classes.  This included Mrs. Silkman’s seventh grade English class where unfortunately, our friendship came to an abrupt end one day.

     My seventh-grade year, Petal Middle School adopted a zero-tolerance policy for even the slightest infractions– being 30 seconds late for class, whispering to a classmate, chewing gum.  The consequence:  Detention.  Detention.  Detention.

     Detention involved staying after school to sit in Ms. Thompson’s class and stare at a chalkboard for 30 minutes.  That was bearable, but what was much less bearable was the additional consequence for me.  After-school detention meant that I missed my bus, which also meant that my dad had to come get me.  This meant that I was likely to get a spanking.

     One afternoon in English class I was hiding a piece of gum in the back of my mouth, knowing it was a detention-worthy offense.  Nobody noticed– at least they didn’t until Jeffrey raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Silkman, are we allowed to have gum in class?”

     “No,” she said.

     “Then why does Josh have it?”

     I sat there, stunned.  My best friend had just sold me out for gum possession.

     “Josh, do you have gum in your mouth?” Mrs. Silkman asked.

     “Yes,” I reluctantly admitted, hoping Mrs. Silkman would spare me.  She didn’t.

     My face got hot as I stared at Jeffrey.  I was horrified as the thought sunk in: Jeff isn’t my best friend– he isn’t my friend at all.

     Within seconds, the thoughts and feelings got tangled into knots of bitterness, and I made a rash decision I would regret for many years:  I cut Jeffrey off.

     My girls have recently been disappointed by their closest friends, who sometimes don’t play with them on the playground.  Last weekend I decided to use the story of Jeffrey and me as an example of how friends sometimes let you down.

     After I finished the story, my seven-year old said, “If my friend does that, I’m going to be sad, but then the next day I will forgive her and we will be friends again.”

     That stung just a little.  It certainly wasn’t what I had done to Jeffrey.

     “Did you and Jeffrey become friends again?” my five-year-old asked.

     “No,” I said, and then I paused, realizing something for the first time.  “Actually, I never spoke to him again,” I said.

     My oldest daughter’s chin began trembling.

     “Daddy, he was your best friend.  You can’t just stop being friends like that.”

     “Well, sometimes that’s what happens to friends,” I said.  “Now y’all go to sleep.”

     “Why don’t you text him?” my five-year-old said.

     “I don’t have his number,” I said, getting uneasy.

     “Can you find it?”

     “I don’t know.”

     The tears started running down my oldest daughter’s cheeks.

     “Daddy,” she said, “will you text him tonight?  Please do it, Daddy.  He was your best friend.”

     “Well, his wife is my Facebook friend.”

     Both girls lit up with excitement.

     “So you’ll talk to him through Facebook,” said the youngest.

     I can’t believe this is happening, I thought.

     “Okay, I’ll try.”

     They both cheered.  I took a deep breath and felt a tinge of joy.

     I messaged Jeffrey’s wife, Lauren, and asked for his number without explaining why I wanted it.  She sent it the next day, which provoked a flurry of insecure thoughts in me.

     What if this is totally weird?  What if he doesn’t even remember what happened?  How awkward is this going to be?

     It was too late though.  My girls were invested and I couldn’t let them down.

     Since they were the impetus for the whole thing, I told them I wanted them to be in on the call.  And with them sitting next to me in the living room, I dialed the number.  Someone picked up.

     Even after 25 years, I recognized the voice.  It was Jeffrey.

     I started awkwardly:  “Hey Jeffrey, it’s Joshua Rogers– I bet you’re wondering why I’m calling.”

     “I am,” he said curiously.

     I told him my daughters were there (be nice, Jeffrey!) and said that I had them on speakerphone because I wanted to teach them a lesson.

     “Alright.”

     “So anyway, I don’t know if you remember this, but when we were in seventh grade, we were best friends.  One day, I was sitting in class, and I had a piece of–”

     “I remember,” he said.  “I know what I did and I’ve thought about it many times since then.”

     He stammered a little bit and then said, “You know what happened?  I was mad at you because a few days before, we were sitting in choir and I was joking with you.  I whispered that I wished I could be an opera singer.  You told Ms. Nagy, and she made me get up in front of the class and told me to sing opera for everyone.  I was really embarrassed and I decided to get you back.”

     I hadn’t remembered that part.

     “Listen, man,” I said, looking at my girls, who were sitting on the floor next to me.  “I want you to know I’m sorry for shutting down our friendship, and I’m also sorry for embarrassing you in choir.”

     “I’m sorry for telling on you in class that day,” he said.  “Right afterward, I sat there thinking I couldn’t believe what I had done, and then I was surprised by how you shut me out and our friendship was over.  You were pretty much my only friend, so it was a big blow.”

     “That’s the sad thing,” I said.  “You were pretty much my only guy friend.  I couldn’t afford to lose you.  And I know we can’t change that, but do you want to be friends again?” I said.

     He said yes, and I asked if we could pray together.  After 25 years of silence, it seemed appropriate to for us to have a conversation with God.

     When we got off the phone, I thanked my girls for helping me get my friend back.

     “God just worked through you,” I said.

     My oldest daughter’s eyes welled up with tears and she said, “Maybe that’s why I was born.”

     “It’s definitely part of the reason you were born,” I said.

     In all likelihood, you’ve had a break in a relationship that used to be a source of comfort to you.  Think of that person.  Do you know where they are?  Do you have their contact information?  If you don’t, could you find them through Facebook?

     I wonder what would happen if you reached out to them– if you got their phone number and had the chance to apologize, to listen to their voice when they said, “I remember” and maybe even “I’m sorry.”

     I’ve always liked that quote where Jesus says to His disciples, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15).  He initiated it.  He called them friends even though He knew they would one day let Him down when He needed them the most.

     I don’t know what your old friend will do if you call him or her, but that’s not really the issue.  The question is whether you’re willing to call the person a friend again, no matter what they do in response.

     It may take some time to decide whether to call or if it’s even wise to call.  But let’s assume it’s a Jeffrey Mitchell situation– just a bygone misunderstanding that outgrew the circumstances.  Listen to the cry of a couple of little girls:  Call the person.  Send a text.  That person was your friend.  You can’t just stop being friends like that.

     I know it’s risky and scary to put yourself out there after all this time, but at least consider it.  Call that person your friend again, then pick up the phone and just go for it.  You never know what it will mean to that person– more importantly, you never know what it will mean to the One who calls you friend, regardless of what’s in the past.

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Proverbs 20:3  —  It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.

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

Luke 5:20b  —  (Jesus said), “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

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

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Josh and Jeff today; friends once again.

1390) The Moment of Truth

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

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

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

     But there was their beautiful girl every Sunday.

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

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

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

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

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

     The moment of truth.

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

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

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

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

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

1385) The Prodigal Genius

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Self-portrait, (1657)  Rembrandt

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From 100 Bible Verses That Changed the World, by William J. Peterson and Randy Petersen, published by Fleming H. Revell, 2001, pages 59-60.

     The greatest Dutch master of the seventeenth century and one of the greatest artists of all time was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669).  Known for his portraits, he also loved to paint biblical characters involved with emotional situations.  Two of his early paintings were The Martyrdom of St. Stephen and Pilate Washing His Hands.

     But his biographers describe him as a proud, vain man in his young life.  An early painting shows him drunk in a brothel, with sexually greedy eyes.  Like the prodigal son, Rembrandt sought money and fame, trying to impress the rich and famous.  His paintings were filled with extravagant costumes and apparently his wardrobe was too.

     Then misfortunes struck, one after another.  Both of his parents died before Rembrandt was thirty-five, and three of his children died in infancy.  The most painful blow came when he was at the peak of his fame in 1642.  Shortly after his son Titus was born, his beloved wife, Saskia, died from complications in childbirth.  Criticism from the church caused him to give up religion.  His friends deserted him, and an economic recession dried up the market for his paintings.  To pay bills and avoid bankruptcy, he eventually auctioned off many of his works for a ridiculously small sum.

     Rembrandt’s only hope and joy was his son, Titus.  With pride he watched the boy grow into manhood.  His paintings from that era include Portrait of Titus Reading, Portrait of Titus in a Hat, and Portrait of Titus Dressed as a Monk.  One of Rembrandt’s biblical paintings at this time was Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph; undoubtedly it was his prayer that Titus would have children that he could bless.

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Titus at His Desk (1655)

     When Titus married and had a daughter, Titia, joy came again to Rembrandt, joy that he had not experienced since before his wife had died.  But then tragedy struck again when Titus unexpectedly died.  Rembrandt went into depression, living on bread and cheese and rarely leaving his home.  His isolation was finally broken when he received word that Titia was going to be baptized.  He attended with tears flowing down his cheeks.  The emotional scene is reflected in one of Rembrandt’s last paintings, Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple (1669).  As you view the painting, you can almost hear Simeon (and Rembrandt) saying the words, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace” (Luke 2:29) as he held the child in his arms.

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     But how could Rembrandt express all the emotions that swirled within?  What Bible story would do it best?  The artist turned to the parable of the prodigal son, a story that had always been a favorite of his.  The Return of the Prodigal Son (1669) reflects the complex emotion that swirled in Rembrandt’s life.  You see him as a father who wished he could embrace his son, Titus, one more time.  But you also see Rembrandt himself as the humbled prodigal at the end of his life, now longing for the warm embrace of his heavenly Father.  He had been stripped of everything, and now all that was left was the sublime simplicity of his Father’s love.

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     Without question, Rembrandt’s realism changed the art world.  But even apart from the world of art his influence was profound.  Because he found in Christ’s life and parables the subject matter that stirred his emotions, he was able to put on canvas a unique dimension of scriptural truth for all the world to experience.

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Luke 2:29 (KJV)  —   Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.

Luke 15:20  —  (Jesus said), “So he (the prodigal son) got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

Psalm 40:1-3a  —  I waited patiently for the Lordhe turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

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“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”

Luke 15:21b, The confession of the prodigal

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Head of Christ (c. 1648-1650), Rembrandt

1373) The Bad/Good King James

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     You don’t have to be an expert in English history to be familiar with the main accomplishment of a certain King James.  You probably have a book whose production was authorized by this King– the King James Version of the Bible, first published in 1611.  This may not be the version you read anymore.  It isn’t the one I usually use.  But for three and a half centuries this was the only translation used by nearly everyone in the English speaking world.  Today, there are hundreds of English translations; but for a long time, there was only one.

     One hundred years before King James, there was no Bible in English.  Bibles in England, and everywhere, were read only by scholars in the original Hebrew or Greek, or, Jerome’s Latin translation from the fifth century.  It was thought to be dangerous for the common person to be able to read the Bible, so for many years and in many places, translating the Bible into the language of the people was a crime punishable by death.

     One of the first and most important projects of all the Reformers was to do such a translation.  In the 1520’s, while in hiding from the authorities who wanted to kill him, Martin Luther translated the entire Bible into German.  At that same time, in England, William Tyndale was working on the first translation of the Bible into English.  He completed it only by successfully eluding the authorities who were always after him; and continued, for the rest of his short life, to be on the run or in hiding.  He was captured at the age of 42 and executed, but his translation had already become very popular with the common people.  Despite the threat of death to anyone who would print, transport, or sell those Bibles, everyone wanted one.  Tyndale once told a priest that if his translation was successful, the common plow boy would soon know more about the Bible than the priests.

     When Tyndale was executed in 1536, his final words were a prayer:  “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”  His prayer was answered the very next year when the king lifted the ban on English translations of the Bible.

     This new freedom led to a new and very different problem.  Now, everyone wanted to sell English Bibles in a business that had gone from being life-threatening to extremely profitable.  In the next sixty years, 130 different translations were produced, most of them hastily done and quite inaccurate.  The common people, unable to judge between translations, bought many bad ones, resulting in much confusion.

     In 1603 James became King.  Not many people thought very highly of James.  He was arrogant, selfish, drank too much, and was eager to use his new authority primarily to serve himself.  He believed strongly in the divine right of Kings, not because he was so interest in the ‘divine’ part, but because he knew that would give him the most power.

     There were many Puritans in England at this time.  These people were serious about their Christian faith, and sought to separate themselves from the cold and hypocritical state church.  The ‘official’ church opposed their every move.

     King James didn’t like the Puritans either, because they had little time for any kind of earthly authority; not of bishops or kings.  God was their king, so they granted little authority or loyalty to James.

     The Puritans went to the king early in his reign with certain requests for freedoms from the Anglican Church of England.  The Anglican bishops opposed this, and told the king that they would adopt his ‘divine right of kings’ business if he would come down hard on Puritans.  So, King James went into the negotiations with the Puritans with the intent of granting them nothing.

     But one of the Puritans’ requests intrigued the king.  For the sake of the truth and integrity of Scripture, the Puritans asked that a new and official translation of the Bible be made, done by all the best scholars, as accurate and true to the original language as possible.  James was not interested in the truth and accuracy of Scripture, but he had his own reasons for not liking all those other translations.  Not only were they carelessly done, but many came with notes to explain things to the common people who were reading these things for the first time.  And oftentimes, the king did not approve of these notes.  He was particularly irritated by explanations like the one attached to Exodus 1:17, a verse which says:  “But the midwives feared God and did not do as the King of Egypt commanded them, but allowed the baby boys to live.”  The notes attached to this verse pointed out that the midwives did the right thing by NOT obeying the king, and that Christians do not always have to obey their king either, because sometimes kings do and require things that are contrary to God’s Word.

     This did not sit well with King James was pushing for the ‘divine right of kings,’ which meant that if the king said it, it was the SAME as if God Himself said it.  So James did not like all the meddlesome side notes in these new translations.  It would be far better for the people to not understand anything.

     Thus, for very different reasons from the Puritans, King James granted their request and gave the command that “a translation of the entire Bible shall be made, as close as can be to the original, and then be printed without any marginal notes.”

     King James celebrated the beginning of the project with a huge banquet and much feasting, drinking, and dancing, along with dog and bull fighting for entertainment.  This offended the Puritans, but they would get their translation.  James was then wise enough to stay out of the way and let the project proceed with integrity and skill.  Fifty-four top translators were employed to do the work.  They were divided up into six groups of nine, each working on a section of the Bible.  The complete texts were then reviewed by still more scholars.  The first edition came off the presses in 1611.  It was an immediate and long-lasting success.

     The result was an excellent translation, not only for its accuracy (for its time), but also for its majestic language.  There were no significant challengers for over 300 years.  Only when the New International Version was published in the 1980’s did another translation begin to sell more copies.

     King James did not go on to become a nice man or a good king.  But as one historian wrote of him: “Despite his arrogance in theology, his incompetence as a king, his profanity, and his drunkenness, we can still be grateful to King James for his part in this noble work.”

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Matthew 4:4  —   Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Psalm 119:105  —  Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

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

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

–Johannes Bugenhagen (1485-1558)

1372) The Big Pygmy (b)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.water4.org/fightfortheforgotten

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Justin Wren  (on the left)

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Isaiah 58:6-12:

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

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

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

–St. Augustine  (354-430)

1371) The Big Pygmy (a)

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Justin Wren (on the right)

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

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

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

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

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

1370) Words from the Spirit

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From the Voice of the Martyrs January 2017 newsletter, (www.persecution.com)

     A pastor from an Islamic country in the Middle East recently shared the story of Shani, one of his church members.  Shani’s husband was the leader of a house church, until one day when he simply disappeared.  For three months, Shani had no idea where he was.  The authorities who had taken him had filed no charges against him, and he wasn’t allowed to see a lawyer or his family.

     Shani was left alone, worrying about her husband and about herself.  She knew her husband was strong and that his faith would endure even if he were tortured.  He would never give up names of other Christians or details about their secret gospel work.

     But Shani was afraid she wasn’t that strong.  “Dear God,” Shani prayed one night, “please don’t allow them to find me.  I can’t handle torture.  I cannot handle a jail cell.  I’m not strong like my husband.  If they torture me I’d probably give up the names of every single Christian.  I might even deny my faith completely.”  She prayed that prayer, then went to sleep.

     Shani was awakened at 6 a.m. the next morning by someone banging on her door.  When she looked out the window, she saw two police cars in front of her home.  “God!  I told you that I can’t handle arrest and torture,” she prayed.  “And this is what happens?  Whatever happens now, God, it’s your fault.”

     The police took Shani to the local jail, which was filthy and smelled like a sewer.  She had grown up in a wealthy family and had never been in a place like this.  

     In the middle of her first night in jail, the guards pulled her out of her cell and took her to an interrogation room.  The interrogator across the table from her looked very angry.

     “Why do you talk about Jesus to Muslims?” he demanded.  “Don’t you know that is illegal here?  You are not permitted to evangelize.”

     The only thing she could think to say was, ‘Dear God … Lord.”  Then she suddenly felt God’s presence and peace.

     Shani looked up at the interrogator.  “I have a right to evangelize,” she said, “and I’m happy that I’m evangelizing.  We’re supposed to evangelize.  This is a commandment from Jesus Christ.  Everyone needs to hear this Good News.  You need to hear this Good News, too.  God sent me here to tell you about Jesus.  You are a poor man.  I feel bad for you.  You don’t have peace, you don’t have joy, you don’t have hope.  You don’t even know why you are alive.  The only way to the truth is Jesus Christ.  You are an interrogator now, but one day you are going to stand before the ultimate judge, Jesus Christ, and He is going to examine you.  Without Him, there is no hope for you.  And Jesus is going to ask you, ‘Why did you do this to My servants?'”

     The interrogator was shocked by her bold words.  “I see,” he replied.  “I know exactly who you are now.  Your punishment has just increased.  Go back to your cell, and I’ll deal with you tomorrow.”

     As Shani was escorted back to her filthy cell, she prayed, “Oh, Lord, what did I do?  How could I have been so stupid?  Why did I even say all of that stuff?”  After further thought, she decided she would apologize to the interrogator and take it all back.  She decided she would say whatever he wanted her to say.

     The following night, the guards again dragged her out of her cell and into the interrogation room.  Despite her plan, she again felt the Holy Spirit’s guidance and began to share the gospel with her interrogator.  The third night, it happened again.  Each night, Shani entered the interrogation room with the intent of apologizing to the interrogator, and each night she instead boldly proclaimed the gospel.

      After the third interrogation, Sham went back to her cell hoping to give her mind a rest and fall asleep.  She hadn’t slept since her arrest and she was exhausted.  In the middle of the night, she heard a knock on her cell door.  To her surprise, it wasn’t a guard.  It was the interrogator.  Shani was terrified.  Was he coming to beat her or even to kill her because of her disrespect toward him?

     “Don’t worry,” the interrogator said calmly.  “I will not harm you.  I want to ask you for a favor.  Would you pray for me tonight?”  The interrogator entered Shani’s cell with tears in his eyes.

     “How did you know that God sent you here at this particular time in my life?” he asked.  “The past three days I’ve been going through hell.  How did you know that my life is so crazy, so messed up?  I tried everything in my religion and I could never find peace.  I learned today that the only Savior is Jesus Christ.  Please help me to be saved.”

     The interrogator stayed in Shani’s cell for three hours, and before he left, he placed his faith in Jesus Christ.  He then ordered the release of both Shani and her husband on the secret condition that they agree to meet privately to disciple him.

     Maybe you have prayed prayers like Shani’s:  Lord, I can’t handle cancer.  Lord, I can’t work for this difficult boss even one more day.  God, I can’t handle this rebellious teenager.  Lord, I can’t endure the betrayal of my unfaithful spouse.

     Shani told God she could not handle arrest, and that under torture she might give up the names of other Christians, or even deny her faith.  And yet this timid, fearful woman boldly shared her faith with her interrogator and everyone else in the room.  A frightened woman who thought she might deny her faith, ended up leading an enemy of the gospel into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

     Pastor Wally Magdangal is a Filipino Christian who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia.  He was arrested for his Christian ministry in Saudi Arabia and sentenced to death.  But God miraculously intervened, and Pastor Wally is still alive and serving the Lord today.

     As he shared his story with us, Pastor Wally said something profound: “Until God is finished with you, you are invincible.”  Until God says your time on earth is over (and He is the only one who can make that determination), you cannot be stopped.  We don’t have to live in fear of persecution, Muslim extremists, medical diagnoses, or anything else.  It’s not about us anyway; it’s about God and His power in us.  Because of God’s power in us, we need not be afraid.

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Luke 12:11-12  —  (Jesus said), “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Luke 12:4  —  (Jesus said), “I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”

Joshua 1:9  —  Have not I commanded you? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be dismayed: for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

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“Lord, help me.”  –Matthew 15:25b

1310) A Prayer for an Unbelieving Husband

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A story told by Tom Housholder, pastor/evangelist in the former American Lutheran Church.  The story took place in the 1950’s in  Housholder’s first congregation.  I heard him tell this story when I was on internship in Sisseton, South Dakota in 1979.

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     Elmer lived the life of a hermit in a remote cabin in a valley in the mountains of Idaho.  Elmer had no friends, and no one knew anything about him.  His cabin was far from any main road, so people knew of him only because of his occasional trips into town to buy a few things.  Elmer did not go to church anywhere and never talked to anyone about anything.

     One day Elmer parked his old truck in front of the Lutheran church and went in to talk to Pastor Tom.  The pastor was surprised to see Elmer, and invited him to come into his office.  Elmer introduced himself and said, “Pastor, I would like to be baptized.  Would you do that for me?”

     Without hesitating, Pastor Tom said, “Sure, Elmer.  But can I ask you what made you decided you wanted to be baptized?”

     “Well, pastor,” Elmer said, “it was my wife that got me thinking.”

     “Your wife!” said a surprised Pastor Tom.  “I didn’t know you had a wife.”

     “I don’t anymore,” Elmer said looking down.  “She’s been dead for about sixty years.”

     The pastor shook his head and said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

     “It’s a long story,” Elmer replied, and then went on to tell the pastor the story of his life, a story no one in town had ever heard.

     Elmer was originally from Minnesota.  He got married, and he and his wife moved to North Dakota where they homesteaded a farm.  There, they had a child, and with tears in his eyes Elmer talked about how happy the three of them were.

     One afternoon in their second winter on the farm, Elmer’s wife and baby were visiting at a neighbor’s house.  Early in the evening it started to snow, so Elmer’s wife and child left for home.  On their way, the gentle snow suddenly turned into a blizzard, with the intense prairie winds blowing the heavy snow so hard that the mother could not see where she was going.  They lost their way, and both froze to death that night in the rapidly falling temperature.

     Elmer was devastated by the tragedy.  He could not get over it.  In the long and lonely nights that followed, he came to a decision.  He would never love anyone like that again.  In fact, for the rest of his life he would not even try to get to know anyone.  He did not want to leave himself open to being hurt like that ever again.

     The next Spring Elmer packed up a few belongings and headed farther west.  He bought a small place in this mountain valley, built a cabin on it, and stayed there.  And he kept that promise he made to himself, and never got to know a single person.

     One of the few things Elmer brought along from his home in North Dakota was his wife’s Bible.  It was important to her, and he had fond memories of her reading it every day.  Elmer said he was never interested in religion.  His wife would occasionally bring it up to him, but he paid no attention, and she never forced it.

     Many thousands of times over the last sixty years, Elmer would sit in his rocking chair and hold that Bible in his hands, thinking of his wife and how happy they were together.  He never opened the Bible.  He still was not interested in what it had to say.  Elmer just held that Bible because it reminded him of his wife.

     “Well,” Elmer said as he neared the end of his story, “I have arthritis in my hands now and I have been dropping things.  Last night when I reached over to pick up the Bible, it slipped out of my hands.  It fell open on the floor, and inside I could see a small piece of paper.  I put on my glasses to take a closer look, and I saw it was my wife’s handwriting.  It was a prayer.  It said, ‘Lord, get a hold of Elmer—he doesn’t know you yet.’  That isn’t much, but it was enough to make me want to do something about it.”

     Over the next few weeks Pastor Tom met with Elmer to help him ‘get to know the Lord.’  When baptism day came, everyone in the small congregation gathered around the font to serve as his sponsors.  When the baptism was complete, Elmer, who had never again wanted to get close to anyone, looked up and said to everyone, “Hi, family.”

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I Corinthians 7:13-14a…15b-16  —  If a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband…  God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

James 5:16b  —   The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

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Lord, get a hold of _______.  He/she doesn’t know you yet.  Amen.