1037) Wait and See

An old Jewish folktale as retold in The Book of Virtues, ed. by William Bennett, pages 774-5, 1993.

     Once there were two young brothers who had spent all their lives in the city, and had never even seen a field or pasture.  So one day they decided to take a trip into the countryside.  As they were walking along, they spied a farmer plowing, and were puzzled about what he was doing.

     “What kind of behavior is this?” they asked themselves.  “This fellow marches back and forth all day, scarring the earth with long ditches.  Why should anyone destroy such a pretty meadow like that?”

     Later in the afternoon they passed, the same place again, and this time they saw the farmer sowing grains of wheat in the furrows.

     “Now what’s he doing?” they asked themselves.  “He must be a madman.  He’s taking perfectly good wheat and tossing it into these ditches!”

     “The country is no place for me,” said one of the brothers.  “The people here act as if they had no sense.  I’m going home.”  And he went back to the city.

     But the second brother stayed in the country, and a few weeks later saw a wonderful change.  Fresh green shoots began to cover the field with a lushness he had never imagined.  He quickly wrote to his brother and told him to hurry back to see the miraculous growth. 

     So his brother returned from the city, and he too was amazed at the change.  As the days passed they saw the green earth turn into a golden field of tall wheat.  And now they understood the reason for the farmer’s work.

    Then the wheat grew ripe, and the farmer came with his scythe and began to cut it down.  The brother who had returned from the city couldn’t believe it.  “What is this imbecile doing now?” he exclaimed.  “All summer long he worked so hard to grow this beautiful wheat, and now he’s destroying it with his own hands!  He is a madman after all!  I’ve had enough.  I’m going back to the city.”

     But his brother had more patience.  He stayed in the country and watched the farmer collect the wheat and take it to his granary.  He saw how cleverly he separated the chaff, and how carefully he stored the rest.  And he was filled with awe when he realized that by sowing a bag of seed, the farmer had harvested a whole field of grain.  Only then did he truly understand that the farmer had a reason for everything he did.

     “And this is how it is with God’s works, too,” he said.  “We mortals see only the beginnings of His plan.  We cannot understand the full purpose and end of His creation.  So we must have faith in His wisdom.”

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James 5:7-8  —  Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

Psalm 46:8a…10  —  Come, behold the works of the Lord…  Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

Job 37:14b  —  …Stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God.

Psalm 37:7a  —  Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him…

Isaiah 55:8-9  —  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.   For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

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Take from us, O God, all impatience and unquietness; and let us learn to patiently trust in your ways, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Jeremy Taylor

1002) The Trouble Tree

Author unknown

     The carpenter I hired to help me restore an old farmhouse had just finished a rough first day on the job.  A flat tire made him lose an hour of work, his electric drill quit, and now his ancient pickup truck refused to start.

     While I drove him home, he sat in stony silence.  On arriving, he invited me in to meet his family.  As we walked toward the front door, he paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands.

     When opening the door he underwent an amazing transformation.  His face was wreathed in smiles and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.

     Afterward he walked me to the car.  We passed the tree and my curiosity got the better of me.  I asked him about what I had seen him do earlier.

     “Oh, that’s my trouble tree,” he replied.  “I know I can’t help having troubles on the job, but one thing’s for sure, those troubles don’t belong in the house with my wife and the children.  So I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home and ask God to take care of them.  Then in the morning I pick them up again.”

     He paused.  “Funny thing is,” he smiled,  “when I come out in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.”

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I Peter 5:7  —  Cast all your anxiety on God because he cares for you.

Psalm 55:22a  —  Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you…

Philippians 4:13  —  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

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O Lord, never allow us to think that we can stand by ourselves and not need Thee.  Amen.

–John Donne  (1571-1631)

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Lord, be Thou within me, to strengthen me; without me, to keep me; above me, to protect me; beneath me, to uphold me; before me, to direct me; behind me, to keep me from straying; round about me, to defend me.  Blessed be Thou, our Father, for ever and ever.  Amen.

–Lancelot Andrewes  (1555-1626)

996) The Valley of Vision

     There is much in the Bible that tells us what to do: be honest, be faithful, love and serve your neighbor, do not lie, do not cheat, do not steal, and so forth.  One of the best known parts of the Bible is the Ten Commandments, that very important list of things that we should do, or, not do.  There is indeed much in the Bible about what we should do.  

     But there is probably even more in the Bible about what we should see.  For example, II Corinthians 5:16 tells us we should no longer see other people from a worldly point of view.  For another example, the world says, “You can have it all;” but God in the book of Proverbs says, “It is better to have only a little and have peace, than to have great wealth and nothing but strife” (Proverbs 17:1).  From a worldly point of view, when you get old and your health is gone, you are done for.  But from God’s point of view, even at the end of our days we can say with Paul, “Brothers and sisters, our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11).  I Samuel 16:7 tells us that even though from a worldly point of view people are judged by their outward appearances, God looks at what is in the heart; again, a different way of seeing.  From a worldly point of view, the time comes for us all when our time is up and as the old expression goes, “We haven’t got a prayer.”  But with God, no matter how hopeless the situation looks one always has a prayer.  Jesus, beaten and hanging on the cross, with the life quickly draining out of him, still had a prayer.  He prayed, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

     The Bible tells us all kinds of things to do, but first of all, it tells us how to SEE– how to see the world, and life and death, and other people, and everything from a whole different point of view.  And then, with that whole new way of seeing, we are led into the wisdom to obey in those things God has told us to do.

     Many years ago, Howard Thurman was the dean of the chapel at Boston University.  He was the grandson of a slave and often told stories that he had heard from his grandmother about living in slavery.  One of the things she told him was the importance of the slaves of going to church on Sunday.  Decades later, she could still remember well how her old slave preacher would so powerfully tell the story of Jesus resurrection from the dead, and then describe the promise of how we too would live forever with him in heaven.  And then the old preacher would take off his glasses, look straight into the eyes of the congregation, lean over the pulpit, and say to them in all seriousness, “Slaves, I want you to remember, you are not any man’s property.  You are the children of God Almighty, and no one can ever take that from you.  Never forget that.”  Sunday after Sunday, he was preaching into those people another point of view– not the worldly point of view, but God’s vision; and in their desperate and sad situation, that made all the difference.  With that new way of seeing they could live and die with hope and courage.

     Even in the deepest and darkest valley, we can know God is with us, and that gives us an entirely different way of seeing everything.

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Psalm 23:4  —  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Ezekiel 37:1-3  —  The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.  He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

Habakkuk 3:17-18  —  Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior.

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The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty thy glory in my valley. 

–From The Valley of Vision, 1975, a collection of prayers by the Puritans edited by Arthur Bennett.

951) Trust

By Lutheran pastor David G. Johnson, The Road Once Traveled, 1991, pages 6-8

     My father, the Rev. Clarence Johnson, served Oldham Lutheran Church for 13 years, and so came to know the people in his congregation well, including Roy Hemmel, fortunately.  Roy was a member of dad’s church and farmed a few miles east of Oldham (South Dakota).  He was a grand person with a good sense of humor, a quality which endeared him to my father, particularly after he caught dad butchering one of his chickens.

     Dusk was settling on the countryside as dad completed an afternoon of calling on members of the church.  He was traveling south on the gravel road in front of the Roy Hemmel farm, following a truck.  As the truck passed the Hemmel driveway it struck one of Roy’s errant chickens and sent it catapulting into the ditch.  The truck drove on.  Dad observed what had happened and, not wishing to see a perfectly healthy, now dead, chicken go to waste, he stopped and retrieved the unfortunate fowl.  He brought the bird to the Hemmel house, but no one was home.  Knowing that farmers often decapitated chickens near the chicken house, he looked for a stump and knife in order to dress the bird.  He found both.

     Darkness had settled over the Hemmel place by then, and when Roy turned his car into the driveway his lights picked up the unusual sight of a man in a dress shirt and tie, looking somewhat sheepish, butchering a chicken.  There is a gap in the story at this point, for I do not know what went through Roy’s mind when he saw it was the local preacher.  Did he feel guilty?  “Did I forget to get him a Christmas present last year?”  Did he feel sad, “Is Clarence that desperate to feed his family?”  Was he angry? “Maybe I should give the Methodist Church a try!”

     My father explained.  Apparently Roy believed the story, even about the truck.  It really wouldn’t have made any difference though.  Whatever happened, as far as Roy was concerned, it was worth it just to have a story as good as this.

     The story outlived both Roy and dad, surviving for 40 years.  Two years ago someone who has roots in Oldham told it to me again.  After one appreciates and savors the comedy of the situation there may linger yet a deeper meaning.

     There is something here about the kind of trust which is a part of a comfortable relationship between two friends.  I’m inclined to think that both my father and Roy Hemmel were laughing before Roy got out of the car.  That is the way with trust.  You know the trusted friend will not try to pull something on you.  You know the trusted friend will not come to an angry conclusion, based on a first impression.

     I think I would rather be trusted than loved, though I’ll take both if you have them to give.  And not only do I like to be trusted; I like to trust people too.

     I am sure there have been times when I have been naive, when I took people at their word and should not have done so.  I would like to see all business conducted with a handshake, for example.  However, those wiser in the ways of the world tell me to get it in writing.  I grudgingly concede they are right.  But in all personal, nonlegal matters I’ll start with trust until it becomes clear that won’t work.  Sometimes I think you lift people up to a higher level of performance by trusting them.

     Twenty four years ago I came to a Sioux Falls church as the youth pastor.  Someone warned me about one of the high school boys who had elevated mischief making to a craft.  The word was out that he was the local master of mayhem.  His name was Steve and, at the first meeting of the youth, he gave every indication of being able to live up to the expectations people had for him.  I can still see him, circling the group like a predator waiting to strike.  And, being new, I was definitely the prey.

     Shortly thereafter, we had a Junior High retreat and I asked Steve to come along as a counselor.  That raised some eyebrows among those who knew of his reputation, and I, too, had some doubts.  Junior High students present a stiff enough challenge by themselves without being infiltrated by a Senior High student who could easily become a loose cannon on the deck.  But Steve rose to the level of trust I had in him.  He was a terrific counselor and he baffled the young pranksters by knowing what they were up to before they even thought of it themselves.  He also became a responsible member of the Senior High group and, years later, was elected president of the congregation.

     My experience with Steve encouraged me to begin with trust when working with young people and then, if necessary, work down from there.  If I have to develop a suspicious approach to someone it will have to be because they have asked for it, not because I have started with a suspicious disposition towards them.

     “I trust you,” is a heady phrase, good to hear and equally good to say.  These are the foundation words for all meaningful relationships.  Without trust, we live on the edge of suspicion, only a few steps away from the chasm of paranoia.  To trust another is to pay a high compliment to that person and to experience the relaxation of letting down one’s guard.  Trust produces a harmony which our spirits crave.

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Proverbs 12:22  —  The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

I Timothy 3:11  —  In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

Isaiah 12:2  —  Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.

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O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of your presence, your love, and your strength.  Help us to have perfect trust in your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to you, we shall see your hand, your purpose, your will through all things.

–St. Ignatius of Loyola, (1491-1556)

915) I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends?

 

PSALM 121:1 —  I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

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     “From whence cometh my help?”  That’s a good question.  We all need a little help now and then, and it is good to know where to look when you need it.  But no matter how much is ever done, there is only so much anyone can do for another, and the rest has to be done or endured alone.  Even in the closest of relationships, there are those places in our hearts that remain hidden, those things that will never be understood, those thoughts and emotions just too hard to express or get across.  Not only that, but when your dying day comes, even if you are surrounded by family, friends, doctors, and nurses, it will still be just you there dying, just you that will take that next step into the unknown all alone.  “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,” says an old song by the Beatles.  That’s a nice thought, and we can and will help each other in all kinds of ways, and that makes life better.  But in all the biggest ways, including the very biggest thing of all, death and what comes next, there is no friend that can help us ‘get by.’

     “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,” said the Psalmist.  We don’t know who wrote this Psalm, but David wrote many of the Psalms and he may have written this one.  I can imagine David having these thoughts as a shepherd boy, all alone out in the pasture tending to the flocks day and night, looking off to the hills on the horizon.  It was a dangerous job being a shepherd trying to protect the sheep from wild animals, thieves, and from the sheep’s own stupidity by which they could wander off into all kinds of trouble.  “I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help?”  That question has been repeated by millions of people over the years, people who may have had some help, but were still quite alone in their troubles.  If the Psalmist, if we, always had all the help we ever needed, there would be no need to be looking off into the hills for help.  But we know we need more help than anyone can give us, and so we are looking.  We all know the feeling, and for that reason this Psalm has been a favorite of many.

     The Psalmist does not find the help he is looking for in the hills, but he does find help.  “From whence cometh my help?,” he asks, and then says, “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”  The Lord who made me and gave me life, and who can preserve my soul (verse seven).  There is comfort in hearing that our soul can be preserved, because we know what happens to our body.

     But the Bible says that you are more than a body.  You have a soul, and the Psalmist, looking for help, says, “My help cometh from the Lord… he shall preserve thy soul.”  That is getting the help we need.

     The Psalmist concludes by saying, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”  Think of it; even for evermore.  For evermore is beyond what any of us can imagine, but one thing we can understand.  The Lord does not mean for death to have the last word.  The Lord does not intend that anything end here, with a body in a casket or ashes in an urn.  That is only the body.  “The Lord shall preserve thy soul,” it says, and then, as we say in the Apostle’s Creed, “We believe in the resurrection of the body to life everlasting.”

     “From whence cometh my help?  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

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WHAT A FRIEND WE HAVE IN JESUS, Joseph Scriven, 1855

What a Friend we have in Jesus,
  All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
  Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
  O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
  Everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
  Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
  Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
  Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
  Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
  Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
  Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
  Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
  Thou wilt find a solace there.

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O God, you who have prepared a place for my soul, prepare my soul for that place; prepare it with holiness, prepare it with desire; and even while it remains on earth, let it dwell in heaven with you.  Amen.

–Joseph Hall  (1574-1656)

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:  For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”

–Simeon, in Luke 2:29-30

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Just for the fun of it, here are the Beatles singing “I’ll Get By With a Little Help From My Friends” (1967):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onnE7vOIyvs

869) Ask and It Will Be Given You?

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  –Psalm 37:4 

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     Psalm 37:4 is one of those verses that Christians can twist to suit their own fancy.  I have heard some preachers claim, on the basis of this verse, that God will give us anything we want.  If we simply “claim it,” God will give us mansions, yachts, luxury cars, and, well, you name it.  To be sure, God can and does bless us materially.  But if we argue from Psalm 37:4 that “God will give you anything you want,” we miss the whole point of the verse.

     Yes, this verse does promise that the Lord “will give you your heart’s desires.”  But notice the context.  That promise comes after a command:  “Take delight in the Lord.”  If we put our delight in God, THEN he will give us the desires of our heart.

     How does this happen?  It isn’t some kind of divine system of rewards.  Psalm 37:4 does not mean that if we enjoy God, he will decide to reward us by giving us all the luxuries we want.  Rather, if we delight in God, if we focus on God’s nature, if we love God with all that we are, we’ll discover that the desires of our heart will be transformed.  We will stop being so concerned about our own “stuff;” even about our own well being.  Instead, we will start to yearn for the things of God, for his truth and peace, for his justice and mercy.  Our desires will begin to reflect God’s own desires for us and for this world.  Thus we will want what God wants, and he will give that which is according to his will.

     Moreover, the more we take delight in the Lord, the more we will discover that what we desire most of all is a truer and more vital relationship with him.  Strangely enough, a closer relationship with God both satisfies our deepest longing and intensifies that longing.  So as we learn to know God better, our heart’s desires will be increasingly focused on God.  We will seek him above all and, by his grace, find him.  Thus, in this way, God will give us the desires of our heart.

–By Mark Roberts, Daily Reflections, March 5, 2011 Blog at: http://www.thehighcalling.org (adapted).

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Matthew 7:7-8  —  (Jesus said),   “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Psalm 37:1-5  —  Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.  Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.  Take delight in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.  Commit your way to the Lordtrust in him and he will do this.

James 4:1-3  —  What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?  You desire but do not have, so you kill.  You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.  You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

James 4:8a  —  Come near to God and he will come near to you.

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I ask you, Lord, to align my desires according to the ways of your own heart.  May I want what you want.  May I seek that which is consistent with your will.  Let your will guide my prayers, my actions, my words, and my desires.  All praise be to you, gracious God, because you give me the desires of my heart.  Most of all, you give me the gift of close relationship with you.  Amen.

–Mark Roberts

867) Funeral Sermon for a Confident Man (a)

CONFIDENCE

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     Whenever I think of Uncle Ray, there is one particular memory that comes to mind.  I remember a hot summer afternoon, perhaps about 15 years ago, when Ray and Laverne were living on East Silent Lake.  Many family members were there for a weekend visit.  We swam, went boating, did some fishing, and had many good conversations.  On the afternoon that I remember best, all the men were sitting on lawn chairs in a circle on the driveway talking about the good old days; and for the longest time, all the attention was on Ray.  He was in his finest story-telling form that day, and he told story and after story.  Stories of childhood, stories of his days in the military, stories of the truck driving days, stories of loved ones long gone; on and on he went.  I remember thinking, “This guy can really tell a story;” and he had so many to tell.  He never ran out.  I recall thinking back to seminary classes where I was taught how to tell stories and use them effectively in sermons.  But as I listened to Ray I realized that to be able to tell stories like that isn’t something you learn in a class.  It’s a gift, and either you’ve got it or you don’t.  Ray had that gift.

     The part of Ray’s personality that impressed me the most was his self-confidence.  Maybe that is part of what it takes to be a good storyteller– you have to be confident enough to believe you have something to say.  And Ray was confident of his opinions and confident of his decisions and confident about everything he said and did.  He was a bold, forward moving guy, who didn’t spend any time hemming, hawing, or having second thoughts about anything.  That doesn’t mean he was always right.  And that doesn’t mean that such bold confidence is always the best way to be.  Every personality trait has its advantages and disadvantages.  I am not saying any of this to flatter or to criticize, but simply to state a fact.  Ray went at life with a great deal of zest and drive and an unshakable confidence.

      I have been wondering these past few days where such confidence came from.  Ray was the baby of the family, his mother died when he was only 14, he grew up during the depression and then the war, and he was poor.  When he was seventeen he came to live with my grandparents.  He was grandmother’s little brother and was going to work for my grandfather; and so he was going to stay with them for a while.  My dad, a young boy at the time, remembers how Ray arrived at the door carrying everything he owned in a paper sack.  Ray had a humble start in life.

     So where did Ray’s powerful self-confidence come from?  I don’t know.  I do think God makes us in a certain way, not only physically, but also on the inside.  And then, I believe it is up to us to make something of what God has given us, by making our own good decisions.  Ray had to depend on himself and he had to work hard, and that can build confidence.  We can make some guesses about why people are the way they are, but we really can’t say for sure why some lack confidence, and others, like Ray, are filled with self-confidence.

     And that self-confidence, that ‘depending on yourself’ can get someone a long ways in life.  It served Ray well, and he enjoyed great success in all that he did.  But such confidence can only get you so far.  That ‘self’ we have to depend on does eventually get old, and it can get sick, and it will weaken and die.  And that ‘self,’ no matter how strong and confident and self-sufficient, may well, in the end, have to depend on everyone else for everything.  And then death comes, when no one help you any more.  Self-confidence can get you only so far.

     That is why it is of such great comfort today to remember that Ray had another, deeper confidence, a confidence that relied not upon himself, but upon God.  Romans 14:7-8 says, “None of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone; whether we live or whether we die, we belong to the Lord.”  We do not have to depend only on ourselves.  We belong to the Lord.  And that is what gives us hope and confidence on a day like today.  Our deepest confidence comes in knowing that death does not get the last word.  God gets the last word, and his word is a word of life for all who will believe it.  We give thanks today for that good word and promise of God, and we give thanks because we know that Ray knew and believed in that Lord of life.  God gets the last word over us, and God says that because of Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, we are forgiven of our sins and we will live again.  We express that deeper confidence ever time we say the Apostles Creed when we say we believe in “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  (continued…)

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II Corinthians 11:17  —  In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool.

Romans 14:7-9  —  For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone.  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

Jeremiah 17:7  —  Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lordwhose confidence is in him.

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For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lordmy confidence since my youth.  From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.  I will ever praise you.

–Psalm 71:5-6

784) Not the Answer

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Job 8:8-15  —  Ask the former generation and find out what their ancestors learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow.  Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?

Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh?  Can reeds thrive without water?
While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass.
Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.
What they trust in is fragile; what they rely on is a spider’s web.
They lean on the web, but it gives way; they cling to it, but it does not hold.

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Ecclesiastes 2:1-11  —    I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.”  But that also proved to be meaningless.  “Laughter,” I said, “is madness.  And what does pleasure accomplish?”  I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly– my mind still guiding me with wisdom.  I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.  I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards.  I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them.  I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees.  I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house.  I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces.  I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well– the delights of a man’s heart.  I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me.  In all this my wisdom stayed with me.  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

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Mark 12:29-31  —  Jesus said, “The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God is the only Lord.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.”

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Matthew 6:19-21…24-34  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…  No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money.

     “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

   “And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you– you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing; patient endurance attains all things. 

One whom God possesses lacks nothing, for God alone suffices.    

–Teresa of Avila

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Eternal God, you ask that I rely on you alone with all my heart in all things.  It is your earnest desire to be my God, and I must believe in you as my Lord, or, suffer the loss of eternal salvation.  My heart shall neither build on nor rely on anything else, whether it be property, honor, wisdom, power, purity, or any person.   Amen.  

 –Prayer on the 1st commandment by Martin Luther

749) Jimmy (part two of two)

     

     (…continued)  We can easily see the foolishness of Jimmy in the story.  He said he was independent of his parents, and he said he did not need them anymore.  But he still sat at their table, ate the food his mother prepared, watched the TV his dad bought, slept in a home provided by his parents, and played with toys his parents gave him.  Jimmy fed himself and walked around by himself and thought he was on his own, but it is easy to see the foolishness in that.

     It is not so easy to see the foolishness in ourselves when we make the same mistake in regards to our dependence on God.  We work hard, we earn our living, we support ourselves, and we’re proud of it.  It may look to us like we are on our own.  But if we forget God, our pride and independence is just as foolish and unrealistic as Jimmy’s.  It is, after all, God who gave us this life in the first place, God who keeps our hearts beating and gives us the air we breath, God who gives the sun and the rain to grow the food we eat.  It is ALL from God.  To think we support ourselves in this life because we work, is like Jimmy believing he was on his own because he fed himself.  How could Jimmy think that as a five year old he could do without his parents.  How can any little human being think that they can do without God?

     There were times when Jimmy was forced to face the fact that he was not on his own and did need his parents; like the time he cut his knee.  He then ran to his mother, knowing he needed her help.  Those times come for adults too; times of illness or old age or despair or death when we come to realize that we are not in control, that our lives are not in our own hands, and that we cannot, in the end, control our own destiny.  Then, like Jimmy returning to his mother, we may return to God and call upon Him.

     I once heard a man speak about his father, a rough and irreverent man, who cared little about God for almost his entire life.  He was confident of his ability to handle anything on his own without depending on or praying to some God.  “That’s for women,” he always said.  The day of reckoning came for him as he lay on a hospital bed in constant pain, his body full of cancer.  The man said about his sick father, “For the first time in his life he saw himself as the poor and fragile little soul that he had always been.”  His father did then finally turn to the God who had always provided for him.  God honors all faith, even the faith of those who turn to him at the very last hour of their lives.  But God would rather that we know him and look to him throughout all of our life.  Ecclesiastes 12:1 says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”

     Remember your need of God, remember your dependence on God, and remember your need to keep in touch with God with weekly worship.  That is where we acknowledge God and hear his word and return our thanks.  When Jimmy started living on his own, he missed out on all the happiness of family life, and that’s not good.  Kids are meant to be a part of a family, and we are meant to be in a lifelong relationship with God.  To deny God a place in your life is to deny a part of yourself, because you were created for God.  Without him, you are left with an emptiness that no one else or nothing else can ever fill.  The story of Jimmy is a sad and pathetic story of a boy who tried to break away from his parents because he wanted to gain what he thought was most important; freedom, independence, and something to call his own.  But in doing so, he ended up losing everything that is really most important; the caring, sharing, and happiness that comes in being part of a loving family.  The Bible tells us that is what happens to a person who ignores God.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”

     One more thing from the story.  Remember them Jimmy’s mother and father? They loved and cared for Jimmy before he could walk or talk or do anything, all without receiving anything in return.  That’s what parents do.  Then, even when Jimmy turned away from them, they still loved him and cared for him, just as much as before.  The parents could not let him go, and still provided for him even though he ignored them.  God’s love is like that.  His care and promises do not end right away if we fail to pay attention to him or trust in him.  He waits for us, tries to win us back, and is ready to receive us with open arms; that is, if we do not wait too long.  We have our entire lifetime to come to him– but not any longer than that.  God will not force on us in death a relationship we did not want in this life.

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Between us and heaven or hell is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.  

–Blaise Pascal

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Matthew 5:45b  —  (Jesus said), “Your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Hebrews 9:27-28  —   Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Matthew 16:26a  —   (Jesus said), “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

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

–The ancient Jesus prayer

748) Jimmy (part one of two)

     

     There was once a five year boy named Jimmy.  He had a mother and a father who loved him very much.  He also had a three year old brother and a baby sister.  Jimmy had a normal family and he was a normal five year old.

     One day, for no apparent reason, Jimmy decided that he would not be needing his parents anymore.  He made up his mind that he would be able to make it just fine on his own.  That is big decision for a five year old to make.  Not many kids that age can handle the world on their own.  But Jimmy was confident that he could do it.  His mother had already taught him the alphabet and how to count to a hundred, and he just decided he did not need his parents for anything else.  He would make it in this world by himself.

     The interesting thing about this is that Jimmy never left home.  He never went out on his own.  He just quit believing that his parents were taking care of him.  He had told himself that he was on his own now, and he just ignored the fact that his parents were still taking care of him, still feeding him, still buying his clothes, still letting him sleep under their roof; still doing everything that parents do for their children.  The parents had not changed at all.

     But Jimmy changed.  He used to be a friendly and pleasant little boy.   Now he never talked to his parents at all, he never listened to them, and acted as though they were not even there.  He still ate all the food that was on his plate, still watched the family TV, and he still played with the toys his parents brought home.  But he never paid any attention to his parents, or even acknowledged they were in the room.  

     Jimmy’s parents were heartbroken.  This little boy for whom they had done everything and who they loved so much, did not even look at them anymore.  And nothing they did could change him.

     Jimmy, meanwhile, was quite proud of himself.  He thought he was doing rather well on his own.  He could feed and dress himself, he went to sleep when he was tired, and he played whenever he wanted.  He enjoyed being on his own.

     One day when Jimmy was outside, he fell on some glass and cut his knee.  For the first time in a long time he went running to his mother, crying for help.  She, of course, was more than happy to help him.  Even though Jimmy had for a long time been ignoring her, she still was doing everything a mother does to care for her child.  Jimmy was very grateful, and for several days he was his old self, talking and playing with his mom and dad.

     But it wasn’t long before he again decided he did not need them, and went back to ignoring them.  Jimmy liked being on his own.

     The only other time that whole year that Jimmy talked to his parents was just before Christmas.  He remembered the Christmas when he was four years old and did not want to take any chances on missing out on all the presents.  But soon after, he was back to ignoring his parents.  Jimmy enjoyed not having to bother with his parents and depend on them for everything, so he stayed that way for a long time, only warming up to them for a while at Christmas or when he got sick or hurt or scared.  

     It is obvious, of course, that Jimmy was never really on his own at all.  All the while, his parents were still caring for him in every way.  His lack of attention to them and lack of appreciation for them and his failure to even acknowledge their love and care hurt them deeply and they did not understand it.  But they did not stop loving him and providing for him. 

     This is how silly it must look to God when frail and helpless little human beings of any age think they can be independent of their Creator, believing they do not need Him anymore.  The Bible says much about our DEPENDENCE on God and our need to TRUST in God, but many live as though they do not need to depend on or trust in God at all.  They might even criticize those who do believe in God as weaklings who cannot handle life on their own.  (continued…)

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Deuteronomy 8:11-18 (parts)  —  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God…  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied… then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God…  You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Zechariah 10:1  —  Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who sends the thunderstorms.  He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.

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Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Psalm 103:1-2