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Author Topic: Inspirational Story  (Read 28283 times)
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« Reply #60 on: June 10, 2012, 11:37:10 AM »

Luke 19:11-27
And as they heard these things, He added and spoke a parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.  Therefore He said: "A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and to return.   And he called his ten servants, delivered to them ten minas, and said to them, 'Do business till I come.' But his citizens hated him, and sent a delegation after him, saying, 'We will not have this man to reign over us.'  And it came to pass that when he returned, having received the kingdom, he then commanded these servants, to whom he had given the money, to be called to him, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading.  Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.'  And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you have been faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.'  And the second came, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned five minas.'  And he said likewise to him, 'You also be over five cities.'  And another came, saying, 'Master, look, here is your mina, which I have kept put away in a handkerchief.  For I feared you, because you are an austere man.  You collect what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.'  And he said to him, 'Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant.  You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow.  Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected my own with interest?  And he said to those who stood by, 'Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.'  (And they said to him, 'Master, he has ten minas.')  For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  But bring here those enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, and slay them before me."
   This Scripture is so familiar to all of us.  Any believer has read it over one hundred time or perhaps more.  But I ask you to read it again and forget what you think it says, and see if God does not have a fresh insight for your living.
   It is Jesus’ last teaching before His final week in Jerusalem, and so it must be important.  In this story of the nobleman, his citizens and his servants, Jesus presents three very distinctive lifestyles.
   First, there are the people who say, “I want it my way.  I’m going to get all I can.”  This is the attitude of the citizens who are to be the subjects of the future king.  They don’t want him.  They have their own plans.  They represent all those who insist on life on their own terms.  They often succeed because of their very determination to get what they want.  But, having it all on your own terms is a mixed blessing.  Unfortunately, enough is never enough.  That’s how we’re made.  We can have it all, and yet somehow the hunger for power and wealth is not assuaged.  If the object of your life is a great getting – of prestige, wealth, power –  you are the victim of an ever-increasing appetite which can never be satisfied.
   It takes a certain wisdom to know when enough is enough, and to move on to the existential questions of life, questions that ought to plague everybody: Who am I? Why am I here?  What’s the purpose of life?
   The parable Jesus tells here is a timely one.  King Herod had just died and his son had journeyed to Rome to press his claims for the kingdom.  Meantime, his subjects were sending delegations to Caesar saying, “This man is not acceptable as our king.” Jesus is telling a contemporary story in veiled terms.  In the parable, the nobleman was given the kingdom and he returned to slay those who didn’t want him in power.  As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the King and that in the last days He will return to His Kingdom.  No matter what denomination you are – even if you are an atheist, a skeptic, or one who practices any brand of non-Christian religion – it doesn’t change that reality.  Jesus tells us through this parable, “Right now you are free to debate and argue, but when the final curtain is closed, I am Lord!”
   The story of the servant who kept his mina safe in a handkerchief presents us with a second way to live –  cautiously and conservatively.  These are the people who want to go through life hurting no one, breaking no rules and making no enemies.  Their aim is to get through life being good old boys or good old girls.  They’re determined not to consume, but to leave everything the way they found it.  They see life as a picnic area.  Their aim is to pick up all the paper and garbage, leaving the place just as it was.  It seems commendable until we take into account that someone planted the trees, provided the tables, the fireplaces, the restrooms and trash cans.  Simply picking up after yourself is not enough.  You are a parasite on those who plant and build and go and do.
   Beyond that, it’s impossible to go through life disturbing nothing.  You cannot live without breaking some rules, making some enemies, creating a few waves.
   To think we can live in the world using nothing and hurting no one is contrary to what we read in the Scriptures.  The truth is – you only have what you use.  A friend of mine had been keeping notes on sermons for many years.  He had notes from scores of preachers, famous and otherwise; a huge box of them.  He told me, “One day I asked myself exactly what good those sermon notes were.  Anything that was of any use, is now part of my life.”  He took his box of notes and burned it.  He realized the futility of storing up truths that had not been applied to his life.
   The third lifestyle we are presented with in this particular Scripture is that of the faithful steward.  In this story of the nobleman who goes to the far country, Jesus is actually describing His Kingdom, of which He is, of course, the King.  Ten servants are given one mina each (a mina is a pound; a pound is one hundred drachmas).  One drachma was the wage then for one day’s work, so one hundred days’ wages were given to each of these ten servants, to be invested while the nobleman was gone.  We are told only what three of the servants did with their money, and of those three, only the one who increased his investment ten times was praised.  The one who made five pounds was rewarded with five cities, but only the most fruitful servant was commended.  The servant who simply saved his original pound displeased his master to such an extent that his one pound was taken away.
   Jesus seems to be saying that there are only two classes of people – the fruitful and the unfruitful.  The fruitful are alive and reproducing.  It is a powerful injunction that we are to leave more behind than we found.  If we don’t, we have missed the message.
   We are stewards of our lives and of all we have.  The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:1: “Let a man so consider us [those of us who are Christians], as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  As a Christian, you are more than a steward of your life.  You are a steward of the mysteries of God.  We believe that God loves us, that Jesus died for us, and that His spirit is now available to us.  Those are some of the mysteries of which we are stewards.
   Another one is you.  If you are a Christian, you are someone in whom God lives.  You may look frail and imperfect, but somehow in that earthen vessel is a treasure.  We read in Scripture that all of creation, every known form of life in heaven and earth and the cosmos, is standing on tiptoe to see if you and I, God’s most extraordinary creations, will find our inheritance.  Will we become those unique miracles that God had in mind at our creation and redemption?
   As stewards of our own lives, are we increasing?  We may be fearful, like the spies Moses sent from Israel who came back saying, “We can’t conquer that land.  There are giants there.”  Because of their fear, the Israelites wandered for forty more years.  They did not claim their inheritance.  Later God said to the Israelites: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given you” (Joshua 1:3).  We can claim the day.  The Spirit of the living God is in us.  To be fruitful, we invest our lives, our jobs, our money, our reputations, our security.  Otherwise, we decrease and die.
   We are also stewards of the mysteries of the church, the Body of Christ.  We are the family of God.  Jesus says, “These are my brothers and my sisters, my mothers and my fathers.”  We say to the world, “Come in God’s name.”  But every part of the body, every congregation, must face whether or not it is increasing or decreasing.  It is not enough to preserve what is.  As stewards of the mysteries of the Body of Christ, we need to be investing for the future so that there will be more loving, caring, support, mission and involvement for the next generation.
   How can we claim to believe in heaven if we have so little regard for the potential of life in the here and now?  Perhaps there is no better way to prove that we cherish the prospect of eternity than to take hold of life on this earth with a passion and a gladness.  Those who wrap their gold in a napkin and bury it, while they think of the world to come, show that they don’t have much regard for eternity, because they have so little regard for time.
   So the timid soul for whom I feel so sorry is, in truth, a villain.  And the villain I see in him too often shows himself in me.  On dark days of self-doubt (which are likely to be those days when I doubt the goodness of God), in times when weariness shuts out the sunlight of vigor and hope, or at times when I’ve simply lost heart, I bury the gold.  Usually it’s only for a brief period.  But if life is such a precious thing, then why do I bury it for even a brief time?  Sadly, some people bury the gold for all of their days – not because they’re bad or because they hate God, but simply because they, like the timid soul in Jesus’ story, are afraid.
   I want to do something for that timid soul, partly because I have a picture in my memory of good but inadequate people who are somewhat beaten by life, who can't imagine themselves as winners.  They’ve lost so often for so many years that they can’t conceive of winning.  I want to help those persons who are so timid about life and so doubtful of God and of themselves.  I want to see them break free from their sense of worthlessness or helplessness, so they might fulfill the confidence shown in them by the One who entrusted them with their gold.
   God’s vision for us as workers ought to deliver every timid soul, for now and for eternity.
   Finally, we are stewards of the world, one of God’s mysteries.  God made the world, and so loved the world that Christ died for the world.  The world is ours because we are His and the world is His.  Will there be more justice, more equality, more compassion, more liberty, more opportunity, more peace in the world because we have lived?  If we are fruitful, we will be more tomorrow than we are today, personally, as members of the Body of Christ and as servants of the world.  May our aim be to hear those words of commendation from verse 17, “Well done, good servant.”
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« Reply #61 on: June 24, 2012, 11:48:40 AM »

Exodus 20:3 - You shall have no other gods before me.

Does God Have Your All?
   Do you realize what the biggest issue in life is . . . priorities.  You don’t have to be religious to know that.  We all acknowledge it every day, dozens of times a day.  It is the essence of life for us list-makers . . . we draw up the list of the things we plan to do, then start numbering them in order of priority.  Those whose budget is stretched to the limits stack up their bills according to the priority rule, “Which creditor will be most heartless?”  For some it gets no more real than an order of ice cream: two dips of ice cream, should the chocolate be on the top and the vanilla on the bottom or the vanilla on the top and the chocolate on the bottom.
   Most of us manage our priorities reasonably well at these levels.  Interestingly enough, we also do pretty well at the frightening extremities of life.  If our house catches fire, for instance, we’ll probably decide quickly and incisively about what to carry out and what to leave behind.
   But life itself is a more complicated call.  I have often wondered why Mr. John’s cows get out, why do they wander away.  I have come to the conclusion they just nibble themselves out.  They go from one tuft of grass to another until they’ve gotten out and lost their way.  And that, of course, is what happens in life.  Unless we purposely establish a structure of priorities . . . we will nibble away each inconsequential tuft of decision until life is gone, and we have little idea what happened to it.
   It would be so much easier if life’s ultimate priorities could be established in some climactic moment.  That happens to some people.  In wartime they call it a “foxhole experience” . . . the kind of situation in which life is stripped to its most elemental essentials, and we know what matters most.  That’s how World War II gave birth to Chaplain Cummings’ truism: “There are no atheists in foxholes,” for often even the most confirmed atheists hope there is a God.  Foxhole decisions, of whatever dimension, don’t necessarily hold after the crisis is past, but at least the person can always remember that once there was a time when they looked all of life in the eye and recognized the absolute priority.
   Almost inevitably, of course, that priority is God . . . and if not directly God, some factor of life which the fruit of a God-encounter is expressed.  In a sense, priority is another name of God.  When we draw up our little list of the things that matter most, that which we designate Number One is God.  Whether or not it is God with a capital G is another matter.  But by pragmatic decision, the priority which tops your list or mine will become a capital P because it will be our god.  It is our governing principle, because, whether we like it or not, we become the god (or gods) we worship.  We become what we worship.  Those of us who wish we were better have probably wished that godliness came more quickly, but there can be no doubt about the method.  Godliness comes from exposure – time exposure – whatever the god we choose.  (young Christians vs. other Christians)
   Not only do we become like the god we worship . . . but we also allow this god to determine what kind of world we have (prayer in school vs ACLU) . . . what kind of government we will choose (if we lived in another country that was Muslim, would they change because I am a Christian?) . . . what sorts of persons we will want to rule over us (do they morally have the same standards)  . . . this god determines how we choose our work (will we work for folks who steal from their customers)  . . . how we feel about it . . . and what we will think of our bodies.  And, of course, it determines what we think of people and of friendships and of human relationships.  If my god is cheap, shoddy, and manageable . . . I will treat people the same way  . . . all of which may raise questions about who we profess is our God . . . and who or what it is that we actually worship.  To put it more directly, sometimes we profess to worship the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ . . . but we demonstrate by our conduct . . . that we have quite another god. (Sunday worship is not a priority, giving is not a priority, reading the Bible every days is not a priority, praying for others is not a priority).
   But the point remains the same.  We become like what we worship.  That’s why the ten commandments begin with our relationship to God.  We wouldn’t prioritize them what way, of course.  Ask the average person for the most important commandment, and they will likely choose the one forbidding murder, or adultery, or dishonesty.  But these commandments are all derivative . . . they have no point of issue except as we settle the first commandment . . . that matter of God.  The matter, that is, of our Priority.
   So the commandments begin with God, not because the commandments are religious . . . but because we are.   They begin with God because what we think about God will eventually determine what we think of ourselves, of one another, and of life.  And this means that all the other commandments rest upon this one.  No wonder, then, that when a thoughtful interrogator asked Jesus to name the most important commandment, Jesus answered, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:29-30). Then, with convicting logic, Jesus continued, “The second (which the questioner hadn’t requested) is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).  If one accepts, really accepts, Jesus’ first statement . . . we cannot escape the second.  To love God is to be like God, and to be like God is to love our neighbor. (Loving our neighbor is not the same as liking our neighbor)
   Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy, which is a second, expanded statement of the Law.  Two words stand out: one and love.  The Lord our God is one.  Our culture speaks often about split personalities, but in this respect we are not different from any of our predecessor generations . . . we human creatures are always split, unless we find an ultimate focus . . . that is, unless we find God, and focus upon God.
   And love.  We think it is an unlikely word for a commandment, but that’s largely because we usually think of love in an emotional sense.  Love is also a state of mind, a direction of attention and of intention.  In my study of Hebrew words, the sense the Hebrew root implies: “I will give.”  Then the love test is simple: “Do I want to do more for them than I want them to do for me?”
   This means an ultimate kind of giving.  Call it an obsession . . .  a magnificent obsession . . . if it is centered on God . . . a divine obsession.  If God be God, he should have all that we are.  That is only the essence of this first commandment . . . it is its beauty and its glory.  God shall have all of you.  Of course . . . what else would we dare offer to God?  Do we give him what is leftover – of ourselves and our resources.  I just don’t have time to do . . . .   If God is the subject of the sentence, dare anything partial be its object?
   Now the truth is this . . . you and I want to be consumed by someone or something.  We want inherently to be possessed.  Something in us wants to live grandly . . . to give ourselves with abandonment.
   It we are to be consumed. . . if it is our very nature to seek to be consumed . . . we had better choose passionately as to who or what will consume us, because you and I are of such sublime importance.  I am especially important to me, because I’m the only one that I have.  After I have used up me, I have nothing left.  I had better be sure that I choose wisely when I give myself up to a grand obsession.
   Come to think of it, even if God should have me . . . why should it be all of me?  Wouldn’t it be better if I parceled out my substance . . . if I would give God some of my devotion, and give some to sex and success and  baseball and auto racing?
   Well, in truth . . . that’s how life is frittered away.  Remember Mr. John’s cows?  We give it up in little pieces, some of them on  sad absurdities, and none of them worth mentioning in the same breath with God.  If life has hundreds of points, it becomes pointless.  If our lives are to have a piercing quality, they will need to have a single point, a classic directness.  Absolutely nothing matters so much as to center our ultimate commitments on God . . . God, who demands all of us.
   I hope you and I realize, that God’s jealousy toward us is a product of His love for us.  God demands all because we are never fulfilled until we give all to Him.  It is our nature to have a grand passion . . . but unless that passion finds itself in God . . . it will not be satisfied.
   What a measure of what we are!  We declare our worth by what we worship.  Is it money?  If so, what a paltry price we put on ourselves?  Is it physical gratification?  To settle for such is to say that there is no more to us than our blood and guts and glands.  What about aesthetic – to give ourselves to beauty (beautiful home, beautiful car, beautiful gadgets).  In my own prejudices, this moves us higher, but it isn’t high enough, because wonderful as the aesthetic is, it is a cramping, limiting measure for creatures like you and me.  It is only a variation on the ancient peoples who made graven images and bowed down to them.
   What, then, of family and friendship and great loyalties . . . to school or village or country.  Surely these are high callings.  Few things seem nobler than the person who will die for their country or child or friend.  Indeed.  But still, these are not ultimates.  Beautiful as is such devotion, it doesn’t fit the greatness of our capacity.  Such devotion is magnificent as an expression of our higher calling, but it is not enough to be our calling.  Let God have all . . . give to the persons, the values, and causes that we cherish.  But let them be a result of the end, and not the end in itself.
   If we give ourselves to anything less than God, we underestimate ourselves.  The writer of Genesis said that we human creatures are made of the dust of the earth, but we are inhabited by the breath of God.  How pathetic, how absurd, for eternal creatures like you and me to pour ourselves into embracing that which is transient!
   Mind you, giving ourselves to God in such absolute fashion will not diminish our capacity for persons or causes or aesthetics, or even what we call “fun.”  To the contrary, we are better equipped to engage ourselves with the harmonies of life when we have found the supreme chord.  We are more able to become involved in friendship and love, in creativity and grand doing, if our basic commitment is in order.  To love God is not to love life less, but to grasp it with a surer hand, a more sensitive one.  With God at the center of our life and vision, we can see more clearly what is good and beautiful in all the rest of life.  With God as the center, we are most surely what we are really meant to be.
   But this is not the end of the matter.  The more we give ourselves to God, the more we become like God.  The more of us that God has, the more we have of God.  This is the nature of relationships.  If I would have more of you, I must give you more of me.  What is true of our human relationships is even more magnificently true of our relationship with God.
   When I speak of godliness, I do so with some uneasiness, because I’m afraid I might lose your attention.  You may be inclined, on the one hand, to turn off your personal perceptions because you’re sure that I’m speaking of something quite out of your reach.  Believe me, I could hardly do such a thing, because in that case it would be out of my reach too . . . since I’m so much like you.  On the other hand, you may not hear me well because in your mind you have a picture of someone you’ve been told is godly and who seems to you only to be odd or unpleasantly pious.
   I’m sure that the most godly people I’ve known have also been the most likable.  They have a great excitement about living . . . and how could it be otherwise if one see God at work everywhere?  With such a viewpoint, life can hardly be dull.  They also have a remarkable ability to roll with the punches, so that whatever happens to them they find beauty and purpose in it.  Of course, they do, because when we fix our vision on God, we are sublimely confident that a divine purpose underlies all that is happening, and that no matter what persons or circumstances may do to us, or what we do to ourselves . . . God will work with us to ultimate good.
   The godly people I’ve known have also been the most admirable.  In a culture that manufactures its heroes in public relations offices and measures achievements by lines in print or by television sounds bites . . . it’s exciting to find people who evoke our admiration without the aid of a press release. 
   Herein is the genius of the first commandment.  Life must have a focus.  If we live scattershot, we will hit nothing of consequence.  But, of course, focus is not enough . . . the focus must be right . . . else we will invest our extraordinary potential in that which is, at best, trivial, and at worst, demonic.
   The first commandment reminds us, by implication, that we are creatures of eternal worth – of such worth, in fact  . . . that we are capable of talking with the Lord God.  If that isn’t breathtaking enough, the commandment insists that God desires our attention . . . because God (who made us) knows how great our potential is, and how tragic it is if we invest such potential in anything less than the divine.  So God gives us a commandment, that we shall have no other gods before Him . . . not because God wishes to fence us in, but because he wishes to set us free, to give us opportunity to fulfill the capacity of our wondrous ordaining.
   God shall have all of you.  And you, in turn, shall be given yourself . . . and the wonder of fullness in God.
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« Reply #62 on: September 02, 2012, 07:29:52 AM »

Genesis 3:1-13

The Sin of Excuses

GENESIS 3:1-13: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden: but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
They heard the sound of the LORD God, walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?”  The woman said, “The serpent tricked me God and I ate.” 
   
   I am concerned about the second sin.  Philosophers wonder about the first sin, and the average person doesn’t usually keep count . . .  but I very concerned about the second sin.
   Part of my concern stems from the feeling that I may be the only one concerned about the second sin.  And of course it is so subtle.  That’s why so few are thinking about it, which naturally makes my burden all the greater . . . because I witness it every day . . . yes every day, within myself, within our church, in our communities and beyond. 
   But before we go farther, let’s review the circumstances of the first sin, since this is where the whole issue begins.  You remember the story.  Adam and Eve were living in an utterly perfect setting, in a place so ideal that they called it Eden . . . paradise.  It seemed they had everything their hearts could desire.  The only thing forbidden to them was the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
   One day a spectacular visitor, the serpent, struck up a conversation with Eve.  We don’t know why he ignored Adam, who was with her (Genesis 3:6), and spoke to her, nor why she carried the whole weight of the conversation.  The serpent raised in Eve’s mind a question about the goodness of God . . . Why would God refuse her and Adam the privilege of anything in the Garden, especially something that obviously must be the most desirable thing there?  And then an  accusation . . .  God refuses you this particular fruit because God knows you will become equal to the Divine if you eat it.
   So Eve was convinced, and she ate.  And being generous by nature, she shared the fruit with her husband, and he ate.  And that was the first sin.
   Of course that story doesn’t satisfy us . . .  it only quickens our curiosity.  What, exactly, was that first sin?  Some have suggested that it was the discovery of sex, because Adam and Eve became conscious of their nakedness and made themselves garments of fig leaves.  But that explanation misses the point, even if it succeeds in making the story more exciting.  The issue was the human desire to be equal with God -- to do what God could do.
   The Bible, in its profound wisdom, portrays the first sin in entirely symbolic language.  If it had described the sin as the violation of a specific commandment, we humans would ever after have thought that act to be the worst sin and probably the only one to worry about . . . and I expect we then would have been unconcerned about all the others.  But the writer of Genesis sharply gives us a picture . . . The first sin is the eating of the forbidden fruit.  It is the basic act of disobedience and disbelief.  As such it is the essence of our human problem.
   This first sin is highly significant because its the first.  But the second sin may, in fact, be more important . . . because we’ll never recover from the first sin so long as we’re guilty of the second.  The scriptures and human experience both testify that God has provided a remedy for the first sin, no matter what it is.  But the second sin can make God’s remedy ineffective.  That’s why it concerns me so.  One might even say . . . that the second sin is the unpardonable sin.  And yet, you don’t hear anything about the second sin, do you?
   Let’s go back to the Bible story to see how it all happened.  After Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they became ashamed of their nakedness . . .  but far more important, they became uneasy about God.  So when God came walking in the Garden soon thereafter, Adam and Eve tried to hide.  They must have realized that it is impossible to hide from God, but sin makes us humans do irrational things . . .  sin is never very smart, you know, not even when it dresses itself in sophistication.  “Why are you hiding?” God asked.  And Adam, who had been quite silent in the conversations with the serpent, replied, “I heard you coming and didn’t want you to see me naked.  So I hid.”
   Now God pressed the matter.  “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten fruit from the tree about which I warned you?”
   Adam answered, “Yes, but it was the woman you gave me who brought me some, and I ate it.” And Eve, not to be left bearing sole responsibility, chimed in, “The serpent tricked me.”    
   Now there you have the second sin.  It is even more dangerous than the first, because it prevents our recovering from the first . . . it is the sin of excuses . . . the unwillingness to admit that we are wrong and the refusal to see ourselves for what we are.  Whatever our original sin may be, whether it is lying, adultery, cheating, unforgiveness, ill temper, gluttony, drunkenness, gossip, or murder . . . there is always hope for us.  But when we become guilty of the second sin . . .  the sin of excusing ourselves and of being unwilling to face ourselves . . .  we close the door against God and hope.
   Ah, it brings us to that word we don’t like to use -- repentance.  The world does, indeed, stand or fall with our readiness to repent.  This is true of nations, of institutions, of individuals.  If a nation takes a wrong road and repents, she can recover . . . but if she insists on justifying her policies, she will disintegrate.  It may be a slow process, but it is a sure one.  The prophets called it the judgment of God, but it is written into the very nature of the universe.  Either we face ourselves and repent, or our world falls.
   The same rule applies to institutions.  When investigative reporters revealed that a national charitable organization was paying exorbitant salaries to a few top officers and that money was being used recklessly, the organization could either tough it out or admit it had erred.  It chose to confess its sins, and it survived.  I doubt that the public would have continued its support if that organization had done anything less than make an abject apology to the nation.  But the key word is not “abject” . . . it is repentance.
   Fiorello La Guardia, whose name has been taken by both an airport and a musical, was the flamboyant but effective mayor of New York City from 1934 to 1945.  He was an institution!  But he made mistakes and acknowledged them.  He noted that he didn’t make many and said, “But when I do, it’s a beaut!”  His voters laughed with him, because he knew enough to acknowledge when he was wrong.
   Mistakes don’t destroy us . . . nor will the eternal mistakes called sins . . . what destroys is our inability to face ourselves and confess that we’ve been wrong.  If a child doesn’t do well in school . . . there’s still hope if they will say to their teacher, “I must be doing something wrong . . . I need help.”  But there’s almost no hope for the person who insists on excusing their poor work . . .  the teacher doesn’t like me   . . . the kids make fun of me . . . I forgot to bring my homework home.  Those who make the most of the educational enterprise are not necessarily those with a high I.Q.  The secret is to be teachable . . .  and to be teachable you must be willing to admit that you don’t know . . .and that’s a form of repentance . . .  repenting of ignorance.  As long as we excuse our failure to learn, we frustrate the learning process.
   But even learning is relatively inconsequential compared with the issues of the soul, our very being.  The personalities of the Bible might easily be divided into those who were willing to learn . . . that is to repent . . . and those who were not.  Those two categories could also be classified as the victorious and the tragic.  Moses and Balaam both erred, but Moses repented his way to greatness while Balaam died a fool.  Saul and David were both sinners, dramatically flawed, but Saul exited in tragedy while David was declared a person after God’s own heart.
   One of the current buzz words for not taking responsibility . . . for making excuses for our behaviour is . . . my family was dysfunctional . . . the Holy Scriptures are filled with dysfunctional people . . . some of histories most magnificent human beings have been marked by major sins, mistakes, and dysfunctions . . . yet they have come to greatness because of their capacity for acknowledging their failures.  They are great, in some instances, not in spite of their sins . . . but because of them.  Character grows out of the soil of our lives like a tender plant.  If we repent of our sins, repentance breaks the soil of life so that the plant gets a new and stronger start.  But if we excuse or ignore our failures . . .  the soil of life hardens until the plant of character simply cannot survive.
   I have suggested that the second sin may be what is often called “the unpardonable sin.” The unpardonable sin is defined as the sin against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28, 29), a blaspheming of the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit is the persuasive agent in our lives, the power which convicts us of sin.  When we excuse ourselves and refuse to recognize our sins, we harden ourselves against the Spirit’s work of persuasion.  That very act of resisting and hardening is a sin against the Spirit . . . a blaspheming, so to speak, of the Spirit’s work.  If this rejection continues long enough, we come to a place where we no longer hear or sense the Spirit’s pleading.  How could we be more lost than to be in a state where we are no longer disturbed about being wrong?  We come to such a place by the continuing process of self-excusing.
   What experts we are in hiding from the knowledge of what we are!  Adam and Eve set the pattern for us, and we’ve been refining it ever since.  When God asked Adam if he had eaten from the forbidden tree, he had the opportunity to step forward and confess what he had done.  Instead he answered, “Yes, but the woman . . .”  What a courageous soul he was . . . brave, ready to shoulder responsibility!  “It was the woman.”
   And the woman, I regret to say, did no better.  Several differences exist between the sexes, but sin isn't one of them.  Male and female, we have a common facility for excusing ourselves.  While it is often noted that the woman committed the first sin, it must also be said that the man led the way on the second.  And in both cases, the other was all too prompt to follow.  So when Eve saw the blame heading toward her, she quickly said, “The serpent tricked me.”
   But I’m not done with Adam.  His excuse doesn’t stop with shifting the burden of blame to Eve. He complains to God, “It was the woman you gave me.”  In other words, “It’s your fault, God, for so generously providing me with this lovely creature who leads me astray . . . this one of whom I said so recently that she was bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  It’s your fault for giving her to me.”
   We’ve been talking to God that way ever since.  “It’s the temperament you gave me.  I can’t help myself.”  “My father was an alcoholic -- It’s in my genes.”  “My wife/husband doesn’t show me love . . . I was made a loving person . . . I’ve got to get it somewhere.”  “We’re poor, and we have to sell drugs for money.”  “I don’t have any friends    . . . so I steal to be cool.”  “It’s my lack of talent.  If only God had given me more talent.”  “I’d help keep the church clean or help cut the grass or work on that committee . . . but God didn’t give me enough energy.”
   The truth is . . . we have refined the skills of earlier generations.  Our great learning has given us new ways to excuse ourselves.  Vast numbers use psychiatry and its related sciences to aid and abet their natural inclination to blame someone else . . . we blame our parents . . . we blame lack of parents . . . we blame our neighbors . . . we blame each other.  It just doesn’t cut it . . . at least scripturally.  We make the mess of our lives . . . how to solve that . . . for all of us, that means stripping ourselves of all excuses and making a new start.
   Our knowledge is leading us, it seems, to a veritable epidemic of fault-displacement.  George A. Tobin, the Washington attorney and writer, recalls an acquaintance who excused his various moral lapses by saying, “Well, I’m just the kinda guy who. . .”  All of us have known such a person
 . . . some of us have sometimes been such a person!  But now we have science, of sorts, on our side.  We’re quite sure we can find secrets in our genetic code to prove that we’re really not responsible for what we do.  “What can one expect of a person whose intricate makeup is like mine?” we ask.  “Pastor, you just don’t understand” . . . oh yes I do.  There’s something both perverse and amusing about the fact that some who scorn the idea of a devil, have shaped a devil of their own and have christened it in the name of science.
   The ultimate tragedy of the second sin is that it prevents us from finding God.  The ancient poet cried out in his guilt:
      The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
      a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.  (Psalm 51:17)
   God can visit the penitent soul because the penitent soul has an open door.  But God is shut out of the life that covers over its failures with a hard surface of excuses.  The Forgiving One never has opportunity to forgive and restore those who will not acknowledge that they want such a divine Friend.
   When Adam and Eve sinned, a great mercy came into their lives.  God called, “Where are you?”  When you’re trying to run from yourself and from God and from life, that call doesn’t at first seem a mercy.  In his epic poem “The Hound of Heaven,” Francis Thompson describes God as one whom we flee  “down the vistas of the years.”  But kindly and persistently, God pursues us, hounds us, follows after us.
   I imagine a community that has been devastated by a fatal epidemic.  Now a physician comes who has a sure, accessible remedy.  Through the streets of the village he walks, past closed doors, crying out as in ancient Eden, “Where are you?  Where are you?” 
   Some hide in the basements of life and die.  But others sense the mercy in the cry and recognize that as painful as it may be to confess the possibility of their infection, they must submit themselves to treatment so that their lives can be saved.
   Shall we say to the physician, “My neighbor is responsible . . . or  the woman you gave me . . .  or  I was born with a weakness . . . or the environment is against me . . . or the system is bad . . . or who can get well where I live? . . . or she hurt me most . . . or he says he’s sorry about the same thing, over and over.”  No . . . no!  Say, “I'm infected.  Please heal me.  Please make me well.”
   Whatever sin or weakness or inadequacy affects and afflicts us, God offers the remedy.  Only one thing can prevent our getting well.  Only one!  The second sin.  Our innate unwillingness to confess that we need help . . . and on the basis of that confession, to seek God’s remedy.
   Whatever we do with this life, whatever course we follow, let us be sure that we don’t die making excuses.
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« Reply #63 on: September 30, 2012, 08:16:12 AM »

Genesis 28:18-22 and Genesis 35:1-3


Going Back To Bethel
Keeping Our Promises To God


   It must have been one of the loneliest nights of Isaac’s life.  Jacob, his youngest son, had run away from home.  As he faced the reality of his failing strength and eyesight, Isaac found himself thinking more and more about the inevitability of death with each passing day.  Isaac recognized that part of the preparation for his home-going involved passing the mantle of family leadership and making disposition of his estate between his two sons.
   Esau, the eldest, had certain rights of inheritance that were inherent in his being the oldest.  Isaac consequently prepared to bless Esau as head of the family and as the one who would receive the larger portion of the inheritance.  However, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, favored their son Jacob over Esau and successfully conspired with him to steal his elder brother’s blessing.  When Esau discovered that his younger brother had cheated him out of both his birthright and his blessing, he swore that Jacob would not live to enjoy the rewards of his trickery.
   No matter what we’re after . . . the way we get it is just as important as getting it.  If we don’t pursue our goals in the right way . . . we might not be able to enjoy them after we have attained them.  Esau recognized that although there  was nothing he could do about his lost birthright and stolen blessing . . . he could do something to prevent Jacob from enjoying what rightfully belonged to his brother.  Esau resolved that when his father died he would kill Jacob.  Rebekah learned of Esau’s designs and told Jacob to run fast and far to the distant home of her brother, Laban, to flee the wrath of his elder brother, and to stay away until Esau’s anger had abated.
   In our scripture we find Jacob by himself in the middle of the night, exiled from home, fleeing the murderous wrath of his brother.  There he was, miles from his home in Beersheba, perhaps on the first long journey of his life.  The journey from home, from the familiar, to new adventures, new ideas, new places, and new persons is always a long and difficult journey to make.  There he was . . . the grandson of Abraham, father of the faith . . . there he was . . . the son of Isaac, whose own life had been spared because of his father’s faith . . . there he was . . .  separated from all that he knew and loved.  There he was . . . on the bleak summit of the Bethel plateau, with his head propped upon a stone for a pillow, looking above him at the starlit sky.  There he lay . . . feet sore, body tired, eyes heavy, mind anxious about his future, heart burdened, and spirit depressed.
   Out there by himself . . . Jacob discovered he was not alone.  Out there . . . while feeling dejected, he discovered that he was not deserted.  Out there . . . away from the reach of Esau, Jacob discovered that he was not out of the reach of God.  As Jacob dreamed, he saw the vision of a ladder or stairway that stretched from heaven to earth upon which angels were ascending and descending.  The Lord who stood above it, told Jacob that one day his descendants would dwell in the land and in the place where he slept.  Jacob received the further assurance that God would be with him wherever he went and would one day bring him back to the land and place where he presently was. Jacob awoke and said: “Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it! . . . How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17, NRSV)
   The next morning, Jacob took the stone that had been his pillow and set it up as a pillar, a monument, and consecrated it by pouring oil on it.  He called the place Bethel, which means “house of God.”  There Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you” (Genesis 28:20-22, NRSV).
   Let us note a couple of things about Jacob’s pledge to tithe.  First, Jacob’s pledge was made when he was a wandering fugitive from his parent’s home in search of another place to call home.  His pledge was made when he was at his weakest financially . . . when he didn’t have much of anything . . . when he could least afford it.  His pledge was based on his faith that God would provide him the means to keep his pledge.
   We ought never assume that persons who tithe are necessarily more prosperous and free of debt than others.  We ought never assume that those who pledge to tithe know for sure that they will be able to keep their pledge or that they know how they will pay their tithe.  I would guess that a number of people who pledge to tithe are not sure that they will be able to afford to tithe.  We ought never assume that persons who tithe have their financial situation all worked out.  “If they had my bills, they wouldn’t be tithing,” some might say.  How do you know they don’t have as many bills as you?  Maybe if you had their faith, you would be tithing also!  Many of us pledge when we can least afford to do so.  Like Jacob, many persons who pledge to tithe are financially shaky at best.  Jacob’s pledge was a result of his belief in God's promise of protection and care for him.  Most persons I know pledge on the same basis.  We pledge in faith that God will help us and provide the means for us to keep our pledge.  We pledge on the promise of God that we will be cared for and provided for.  I repeat . . . to pledge is to make a faith commitment, and “faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11: 1 KJV).  The apostle Paul reminds us, “. . . in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25, NRSV).
   Secondly, Jacob’s pledge to tithe was a voluntary act.  Jacob did not tithe because tithing was part of God’s law at that time.  Those who correctly observe that tithing later became part of the Old Testament law might then ask, “Since we are under the new dispensation of grace, does the Old Testament law of the tithe apply to us?”
   Let us note that the first Old Testament tithers were persons who were not under the law.  The first Old Testament tither was Abraham.  In Genesis 14:20 Abraham tithed to Melchizedek a tenth of everything he had (not of his net but of his gross) as an act of thanksgiving to God for victory in a battle. The tithe was holy -- it belonged to God.  The tenth of what God has blessed you with is His -- again I say, it is holy.   In Genesis 28, Jacob pledged to tithe to God a tenth of all he had.  Both of these incidents occurred many generations before the law was given to Moses.  Thus even in the Old Testament the first instances of tithing were expressions of thanksgiving and faith, not law.
   We tithe because the Scriptures identify tithing as an appropriate standard, one way of expressing thanksgiving and faith.  Other standards of giving lifted up by the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, include that of the widow, who gave the two mites . . . Barnabas, who sold his field and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet . . . and Jesus, who gave his life.  Each gave not a tenth but all.  Their gifts of all, like Abraham’s and Jacob’s gift of the tenth, were given voluntarily, as acts of thanksgiving and expressions of faith.  Let us never forget that tithing is giving, and giving is at its best when it is done not grudgingly nor out of a sense of necessity, but voluntarily.  For “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7, NRSV).  God has given us so much and been so good to us that we cheerfully give back what God asks.  It is holy -- it is God’s!
   At the close of Genesis 28, we see Jacob, the homeless young man, making a faith pledge to give God a tenth.  By the opening of chapter 35, over thirty years have passed.  We can observe two things.  First, God has kept the promise made at Bethel . . . second, Jacob has not.  Since the time that Jacob as a young man rested his head on the stone in the middle of the night, he had become a very wealthy and powerful person in the region where he lived.  He had settled at Shechem with his large family of twelve sons and one daughter.  He owned herds of livestock, and his land holdings were vast.  God had truly been good to Jacob and had kept every promise made to him.  Jacob, however, had evidently become so comfortable at Shechem that he had forgotten about the vow he had made at Bethel when God had come to him at midnight and spoke peace to his troubled spirit.  He had forgotten his promise to return to the spot of his heavenly visitation and build an altar there.  He had forgotten that he had promised to give a tenth of all he had to God.
   It’s easy to become so comfortable and accustomed to the good life at Shechem that we forget about the promises we made at Bethel.  How many promises have we made to God -- Lord, if you will do this -- I promise, I will do that.  That’s why I believe that every now and then we ought to rededicate ourselves anew to God.  That’s why I believe in renewing our stewardship and reviewing our discipleship commitments.  It’s easy to forget the promises we made when we were scared and desperate, when we were humble and thankful, or when we first felt the presence of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
   But though our memories are short . . .  God’s memory is long.  God came to Jacob and told him, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and dwell there; and make there an altar to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau” (Genesis 35: 1).  Jacob then went to his household and said: “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; then let us arise and go up to Bethel, that I may make there an altar to the God who answered me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone” (Genesis 35:2-3).  Not only had Jacob forgotten his vow, but he had allowed strange gods to infiltrate his household.  When we forget our word to God and God’s word to us . . .  it’s easy to become infiltrated by strange gods, strange doctrines, and strange ideas (do I need to name these?).  When we fail to do as we promised, when we disregard our vows, it’s easy to adopt strange ways and habits that are foreign to our background.  When we fail to remember the God of Bethel . . . when we fail to worship the God who picked us up when we had nothing in the day of our distress   . . . it’s easy to start making allowances and compromises and permitting things that we know we shouldn’t.  Forgotten vows . . . to our forgotten God . . . at a forgotten Bethel . . . lead to strange gods and strange ways.  Incorrect and forgotten stewardship commitments lead to shady discipleship.  When we fail to give to God as we ought . . . we start spending our money in strange ways on strange things, buying what we wouldn’t buy otherwise.  When we fail to keep God first in our giving, God also ceases to be first in our living.
   Maybe that’s why the spiritual life of the church is sometimes so poor, and our stewardship has become so shaky.  When the early church had needs, people sacrificed and gave as God had prospered them.  They didn’t give what they didn’t have . . . they gave as God had given to them.  Somewhere we started believing that we needed to get something back for what we gave other than the blessings that God has given and continues to give.  We started pushing tickets, pushing tapes, and pushing shows.  More sins and strange practices have entered the life of the church through some of our fund-raising.  Some of us are going to end up in hell over the things we do under the banner of raising money for the church.  We . . . all of us . . . preachers, officers, church members . . . have allowed all kinds of strange practices to enter the household of faith.  God’s Word comes to us and tells us to put away these foreign practices that are damning the souls and ruining the spirit in the church.  Stop selling some of these strange things that we wouldn’t want the Lord to catch us buying or doing.  Put away some of these strange trips to some of the strange places we wouldn’t want the Lord to catch us going to.  The Lord knows what we are doing in his church’s name.  Let’s go back to the Bethel of sound biblical giving and stewardship where we pledge: “I'll erect an altar in my heart and give at least a tenth of all you give to me.”
   We need not only to return to our Bethels of biblical stewardship and tithing   . . .  we need to return to other Bethels of broken promises and forgotten vows.  Some of us who are walking around healthy, mean, and cantankerous need to remember how we promised the Lord on a sickbed that if he healed us we’d turn over a new leaf and be a better person.  We need to go back to that Bethel and do as we promised.  Some of us as mature Christians who have become too comfortable in our Shechems need to remember the Bethels of our home training.  We were taught to give in the church and to the church with thanksgiving and faith.  We were taught to respect God’s church, God’s preacher, and God’s people.  We were taught to be kind and not to talk about people or look down on people less fortunate than we.  We need to remember what others taught us and what we promised them before they went home to glory.  Maybe, like Jacob, we were wandering around lost in life, confused and lonely, but the grace of God found us and comforted us in the day of our distress.  We made a decision to live for Jesus, but since that time we’ve allowed Satan to steal our joy.  We need to find our way back to Bethel.  Some of us as leaders . . .as preachers and officers, presidents and persons with influence . . . have forgotten that we hold our positions to serve, not to be served . . . to give, not to be given . . . to do God’s will, not push our own program . . . to act in the best interest of the church and not the best interest of our egos or power.  We need to go back to Bethel.
   When Jacob went back to Bethel, God met him there and called him again by his new name, Israel, given to him at the Jabbok, and repeated the promise made in times past.  When we return to Bethel, God will meet us there.  We’ll hear God speak afresh . . . hear God's word in a new way . . . and receive a new vision and a new name.
   We can climb again Jacob’s ladder -- come back to Bethel -- renew your promise to God -- and then trust him to make sure you keep it!
   Jacob awoke and said: “Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it! . . . How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Genesis 28:16-17, NRSV)
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T.Y., Brandi!


« Reply #64 on: October 04, 2012, 09:09:13 AM »

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, October 4, 2002

http://www.americancatholic.org/features/francis/blessing.asp
Blessing of Animals


by Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M.
 
Snipped

Francis, whose feast day is October 4th, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. He and his early brothers, staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey. Smile

Shipped


October 4,2012
 
October 4
St. Francis of Assisi
(1182-1226)

For Francis, creation is good and of Christ because it bears
the imprint of Christ from before the beginning.

https://www.catholicgreetings.org/viewingcard.aspx?cardid=22
http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/default.aspx?id=16
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Wynton Marsalis~
"Let us Give, Forgive, and Be Thankful"

 Zayra is remembered
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« Reply #65 on: October 04, 2012, 10:49:25 AM »

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, October 4, 2002

http://www.americancatholic.org/features/francis/blessing.asp
Blessing of Animals


by Kevin E. Mackin, O.F.M.
 
Snipped

Francis, whose feast day is October 4th, loved the larks flying about his hilltop town. He and his early brothers, staying in a small hovel, allowed themselves to be displaced by a donkey. Smile

Shipped

October 4,2012
 
October 4
St. Francis of Assisi
(1182-1226)

For Francis, creation is good and of Christ because it bears
the imprint of Christ from before the beginning.

https://www.catholicgreetings.org/viewingcard.aspx?cardid=22
http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/default.aspx?id=16

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T.Y., Brandi!


« Reply #66 on: November 21, 2012, 03:52:19 PM »

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Nov2006/Family.asp

Counting Our Blessings

This month, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that’s all about recognizing our blessings. Many of us will probably ask for blessings on us and our turkey dinner—without even giving it a second thought. Here are some other suggestions for ways in which we can remind ourselves that we are truly blessed:

Name your blessings. Sometimes even though we may know we are blessed, we don’t take the time to recognize those blessings. Take some time to name your blessings out loud. At dinner tonight, have everyone in your family name one way in which he or she is blessed.

Accentuate the positive. Focus on the blessings you do have rather than those you don’t. For instance, I could have basked in the shadow of those gorgeous giant sunflowers, but instead I focused on the things that didn’t grow.

Write it down. I recently reread Sara Ban Breathnach’s book Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy (Warner Books). In the book, she urges readers to keep a gratitude journal where every day you write down five things for which you are grateful. I was surprised at how quickly I started recognizing things for which I am grateful.

Pass the word. If you consider someone to be a blessing in your life, let that person know. Tell your kids, parents, siblings or friends how much they mean to you and why.

Be a blessing. Try to do something nice for someone today. It doesn’t have to be something big. Bake some cookies, give a card with a personal note or a framed picture of you and the recipient, or make a CD of some favorite songs. You’d be surprised how much such blessings will be appreciated.

Recently, I was having a particularly bad week and my friend dropped off dinner and dessert for my whole family. Not only was it a thoughtful gesture, but it saved me from having to cook. And my family and I had a wonderful meal for which we gave thanks!

http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Nov2006/Family.asp


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Wynton Marsalis~
"Let us Give, Forgive, and Be Thankful"

 Zayra is remembered
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« Reply #67 on: December 16, 2012, 01:43:44 PM »

The tragic events that occurred in Connecticut have brought all of us to an abrupt pause.  That is a good thing – we need to stop and look at our world and our communities more often.   More importantly, we need to stop and examine ourselves.  There is and will be much debate about gun control laws . . . there is and will be much debate about how we treat or don’t treat persons with mental illness . . . there is and will be much debate about the media making pseudo-heroes about people who commit these horrendous acts.  Such dialogue is also good.  Yet when horrific events occur . . . where we just can’t make any sense out of it all . . . the proper place to turn is God’s Word.  The truth . . . whether we want to hear it or not . . . is that we as a people have moved away God.
   When we observe the work of the evil one in our lives and history . . . when we observe in the Scriptures, we will see that the enemy, the true enemy is smart.  He has done a lot.  Shortly after the creation of the first man and the first woman, he brought sin into our world.  The jealousy that prompted Cain to kill his brother Abel was his work.  After God purified the world by a flood, Satan sent the pride that caused the confusion among the descendants of Noah at the tower of Babel.  Satan put the lies in the mouths of Abraham and his son Isaac, as well as the meanness within Sarah’s heart and the duplicity within Rebekah’s spirit.  He prompted Jacob’s greed and Esau’s shortsightedness.
   Satan initiated the resentment among Jacob’s sons that led them to sell their brother into Egyptian slavery.  Then Satan planted lust within the heart of Potiphar’s wife, which caused Joseph to be imprisoned.  Satan placed a grievous yoke of slavery upon the children of Israel and then created so much dissatisfaction among them that they wandered for forty years in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land.  He corrupted Aaron, Moses’ own brother, and put a rebellious spirit in Miriam, Moses’ sister, and was responsible for Moses’ anger and impatience, which prevented him from entering the Promised Land. 
   Satan turned Samson’s head toward Philistine territory and was behind Haman’s plot to destroy the people of God during the time of Esther.  Even David, the man after God’s own heart, was not immune from Satan’s treachery.  Satan caused Solomon to act unwisely and deafened Rehoboam’s ear to sound counsel, which ended in the fracturing of the nation of Israel.  Everything that Ahab and Jezebel tried to do to Israel’s religious life was done through Satan’s initiative.  He  so infiltrated the political lives of Israel and Judea that, but for a small and saving and righteous remnant, they almost lost their distinctiveness as God’s people.
   When God’s own Son came into the world, Satan fashioned the cross on which he was hung.  He conspired with Judas to betray his Master and with Ananias and Sapphira to lie to the Holy Spirit.  He prompted the persecution, suffering, and slaughter of the early Christians.  He was behind the stoning of Steven, the beheading of James, the crucifixion of Peter, and the banishment of John to the Isle of Patmos.  To take the joy out of the revelations Paul received when he was caught up into the third heavens, Satan sent him a thorn in his flesh.  And, in the book of Revelation, we see Satan establishing his throne in the city of one of the early churches.
   In our day, Satan is no less busy.  All of the great “isms” – racism, sexism, classism, anti-Semitism, Nazism, Fascism, materialsim – all are his handiwork.  The addictions, phobias, fears, poverty, violence, and crimes that oppress the human spirit represent his work.
      When one looks at Satan’s ability to work with and work on the human spirit, he appears to be pretty smart.  Satan knows just what to say and what to do to receive a hearing from the human heart.  He knows what strings to pull . . . what buttons to push . . . what imperfections to play upon to get the reaction he wants.  He knows where the blind spots in our characters are, as well as where the unhealed wounds in our spirits are.  He knows not only where they are but also how to reach them.  More often than not he comes to us indirectly.  He is aware that we would run from that which we would recognize as certain death and destruction.  Therefore, the prince of darkness comes to us an angel of light.  He comes not as evil, but as good . . . not as an enemy, but as a friend . . . not as conviction, but convenience . . . not as judge, but as advocate.  He does not call what he offers sin . . . but refers to it as pleasure, fun, a good high, a good time, an easy way, and a chance to be accepted by the “in-crowd.”  He writes no commandments and requires no commitments.
   Satan doesn’t mind our coming to church or singing in the choir or teaching Sunday School or serving on the Church Council . . . particularly when he is still getting more of our time, energy, and money.  He is happy to share with the Lord because some of his best workers are found and some of his most effective work is done in the church.  We don’t have to walk down an aisle or join him or manifest any newness of life to serve him or come to the altar and pray to him.  We don’t have to change anything . . . we can stay just as we are – live the same old way, talk the same old trash, think the same old thoughts, and go to the same old places.  We don’t have to do anything at all . . . just stay the way we are.
   Satan’s work is immeasurably helped by those who do nothing, see nothing, desire to know nothing, want nothing and hear nothing that might shake up their own little world, which amounts to nothing.  Satan doesn’t ask that we love him with all our hearts, souls, and minds and love our neighbors as ourselves.  Satan is satisfied with our loving only ourselves.  Some of Satan’s best work is carried on by those who only love themselves – their careers, their security, their comfort, their family, and their friends.  Thus, they don’t care whom they have to hurt or use as long as they themselves are satisfied.
   Since Satan comes to us as a friend, he is basically a deceiver and a liar.  Thus, we can’t believe anything he says, for dishonesty is his nature.  Jesus said of him: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).  We must closely examine everything he does.  That’s why the writer of Ephesians talked about resisting the “wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10).  Names to which he is referred in Scripture let us know he can’t be trusted.  Note what the Bible calls him – Beelzebud, serpent, dragon, raging lion, evil one, accuser, tempter, destroyer, the adversary, enemy, slanderer, prince of demons, ruler of this world, prince of the power of the air, and god of this world.
   Satan admittedly has done much, and when it comes to a knowledge of human nature, he’s wise.  Yet, he is still the father of lies.  Esau may have sold his birthright for a bowl of soup . . . Haman may have built a gallows from which he himself was hung . . . Samson may have fallen to the charms of Delilah . . . Ananias and Sapphira may have unwittingly lied to the Holy Spirit . . . but Satan has consistently and intentionally challenged the Word and sovereignty of God.  It is not good to mock God and challenge God’s power over life and history.  Pharaoh did it and saw his armies buried in the watery grave of the Red Sea.  Nebuchadnezzar did it and ended losing his mind and eating grass like the ox.  Beshazzar did it and saw a hand from out of nowhere write his doom upon the wall.  Jezebel did it and was thrown over the balcony into the street, where the dogs licked her blood.  Herod did it and was stricken upon his throne, and the worms ate his body.
   If these servants of Satan’s purposes received such a fate, then neither will their master escape the judgment of God.  The book of Revelation tells me that in the end Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit into which he has cast so many who have drawn him close.  Satan’s kingdom is doomed because God’s Word says so, and unlike Satan, God does not lie.
   Satan is not smart because he has attacked God’s creation.  It’s not smart to believe that God, who made the creation, who gave Jesus to die for it, and the Holy Spirit to sustain it, will give it up and hand it over to Satan.  Never forget that the hand of the one who made the creation is able to maintain and protect it in spite of Satan’s work.  Sin may run amuck in the world, but God was able to save Noah and his family in the ark . . . as well as Lot and his family in Sodom and Gomorrah from falling fire.  Joseph’s brothers may have sold him into slavery and Potiphar’s wife may have been responsible for his imprisonment, but God was able to use their treachery for Joseph’s good.
   It is true that Moses’ error left him on the summit of Mount Nebo without entering the Promised Land, and Elijah’s fear caused him to flee from Jezebel’s wrath, but God was able to transport them through the corridors o time and bring them centuries later to the lonely slopes of the Mount of Transfiguration, where they personally spoke with Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  Satan may have fashioned the cross for God’s only Son, but early the third day God sent an angel to roll back the stone from the tomb and raise the Son to stoop no more.  In spite of Satan’s destructive work, God is able to care for his creation.
   Satan may appear to be smart, but he has been outsmarted.  In the early part of the last century an artist who was also a great chess player painted a picture of a chess game in which the two players were a young man and Satan.  Should the young man win, he would be free from the power of evil forever.  If Satan should win, the young man was to be his slave forever.  The artist evidently believed in the supreme power of evil, for his picture presented the devil as the victor.  In the picture, the young man’s hand hovers over one of the pieces, not knowing what to do.  There was no hope – the devil would win . . . the young man would be his slave forever.  For years this picture hung in a great art gallery, and chess players from all over the world viewed the picture and reached the same conclusion – the devil wins.  One day a chess player who studied the picture became convinced that there had to be a way out and he knew of one chess player who could find it.  He arranged for the supreme master of chess, and undefeated champion, to view the picture.  The old man stood before the picture for more than half an hour, pondering what move the young man might make.  Finally, his hand paused . . . his eyes burned with a vision of anew combination.  Suddenly he shouted, “Young man, that’s the move.  Make the move.”  To everyone’s surprise, the supreme chess champion had discovered a move that the creating artist had not considered.  The conclusion was changed, the devil had been outsmarted, and the young man was forever free.
   For centuries Satan held our souls in the checkmate of death.  Neither Abraham with his faith, Moses with his law, Job with his patience, Deborah with her courage, Esther with her obedience, David with his military skills, Solomon with his wisdom . . . Daniel with his vision . . . mor Ezekiel with his preaching could break it.  But one day some two thousand years ago, God made a move that Satan hadn’t counted on.  God sent Jesus Christ into the world.  One Friday when he bore a cross up Calvary’s hill, God proclaimed, “That’s the move.  Make the move.” 
(You can goggle ‘devil playing chess’ and see this art work.)

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« Reply #68 on: February 17, 2013, 08:21:39 AM »

Matthew 4:1-11

The Temptations of Christ

   One day in the village, the carpenter laid down his tools for the last time, closed the door and walked through the outskirts of the village, up the winding path into the hills.
   Far into the night he walked, until he found himself among the caves and rocks of the wilderness with the cry of the wild beasts in his ears.  He had to go there . . . he was impelled to go.  “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.”
   What does this story mean to us, this account of the Son of Man tempted by the devil?  We may never wholly know, but we have come far enough to know that the temptation of Jesus was a mental conflict He endured in thinking out His plan of action.  He had come to be the Saviour of humanity and the answer to the prophets’ hopes  . . . to bring salvation. 
   To suppose it was merely the temptation of a good man to be selfish, to do an evil thing – is to miss the point.  Every person’s temptation must be interpreted in the light of their life purpose.  Jesus’ purpose was the Kingdom of God . . . to change the hearts of people . . . to bring them to God.  That was the end purpose of His life, and the conflict in the wilderness concerns the means by which He might reach that end and achieve His purpose.  We know also that He must Himself have told this story to His disciples, describing His spiritual wrestling in these simple pictures which they could remember, even if they could not understand.
   If we had seen the temptation, we would have seen no devil, no temple in the distance . . . just a young man alone there with His thoughts . . . day after day wrestling with Himself . . . wrestling with the issues, thinking them through, seeing the shortcuts and tempted to take them and spurn the alluring ways that could deflect Him.  And finally with His mind made up, clear-eyed and certain about the method which must be unflinchingly followed . . . He came out of the wilderness with quiet and calm in His soul, and angels ministered unto Him.  We need to remember He was no long-haired, holy prophet.  He was a strong young man of thirty, the clearest thinker with the most realistic mind the human race has known.
   This invisible encounter between the forces of good and evil, between the truth about life and the worldly lie -- raised the most important question for Jesus and a most important question for us, His disciples . . . How could He win the world, change the hearts of people and bring them to God?   How can we?
   Here in the desert long ago our Lord fought out a battle and with clear perception saw through eternity the problems of life that still perplex and bedevil the world.
   It began with bread.  Almost everything does, so basic is bread to life.  “Command that these stones be made bread.”  Of course He was hungry:  He had fasted many days.  His eye fastened on the small smooth stones of the desert which travelers say look very much like little loaves of bread, and an idea which He called a temptation took shape there in His mind.  Bread . . . that’s a good place to start.  Poverty, hunger . . . feed people and they’ll follow.  They’ll follow anyone who will give them bread.  That’s how many politicians get their votes and how every ruler rises to power.  Feed people and they’ll follow.  It is easy to see why Jesus should be tempted at this point, for He was no stranger to hunger.  He knew what it meant to be poor.  All His life He had seen the haunted look in the eyes of hungry people.  And because He could look into even today . . . He saw the host of the world’s hungry people.  He saw them stretching out into. . . an endless sea.  Mothers clasping puny children to their . . . shriveled breasts . . . fathers tearing open their ragged shirts to show the bones beneath their skin . . . while all around . . . like the moan of the sea there went up the cry . . . “Bread!  Bread!  For God’s sake give us Bread!”  This, He told His disciples later, was a temptation to Him.
   “Answer that cry,” the tempter said.  “Anyone who can answer the cry of poverty can rule the world.  If you are the Son of God, if you have God’s power in your hands, use it to answer the real need . . . bread.  How can you give them God if you don’t give them bread?  How can you make them good if you don’t give them bread?  Feed their bodies, and you’ll get their souls.  Never mind all that other stuff you want to teach them . . . God, love, brotherhood, sisterhood, that stuff.  Who needs it?  Give them what they need.  Give them bread.”  There is a powerful plausibility in this, and, of course, some measure of truth.  Whole ideologies have come into being around the idea that since people are animals and little more, bread is the thing.  That is all life is when you take the trimmings off . . . a hard, grim battle for bread.
   “Feed the people, and they’ll eat out of your hand,” said Karl Marx.  The business world is obsessed with it.  The business of life is business . . .  everything else is trimming -- culture, religion, even morals.  Seek first what you shall eat and drink, what you shall put on, and people will be good and other things will be added.  Even the church, every so often, gets sidetracked in its legitimate concern for social needs and loses sight of the higher spiritual dimensions, and social service becomes religion.  But Jesus rejected this line of thought, sensitive as He was to the physical needs of people.  He knew we could not live without bread.  At the center of His prayer was “Give us this day our daily bread.”  But He saw farther than Karl Marx . . . or others even of today . . . there in the wilderness He saw, with penetrating insight, clear through the problem of the world’s bread.  He saw that it could not be solved by bread alone, that it was everlastingly rooted in the spiritual, that there was no solution without getting the evil out of people’s hearts and no solution apart from some other things.  He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”  The need for other words . . . God’s . . . He saw more than two thousand years ago.
   It is becoming a bit clearer to us now.  We must learn some other God’s words, or no bread.  Conservation is one such word, which is just another word for stewardship, the care of the earth which is the Lord’s.  If we continue to blight the earth and waste its resources, we’ll have no bread.  Work is another.  God has ordained that we shall earn our bread with our sweat and our toil.  We do not help people by feeding them or housing them unless we do a good deal more.  They will take your bread, gobble it up, lie down, go to sleep in the sun and be no different and no better.  But give them other words . . . give them hope, faith and self-respect as children of God and they will stand on their own feet and take care of their own bread.  Love is another word.  Laugh as we will at brotherhood or sisterhood, it is getting clearer now that without it we shall have no bread.  If we quarrel over bread and fight each other to get it, we shall destroy it, the world and ourselves with it.  This is no theological battle fought out there in the wilderness . . . it goes right to the heart of the world’s number one problem . . . the problem of bread.  Every day it gets clearer what Jesus told the devil in the desert . . . that man cannot live, cannot survive by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
   “Very well,” said the devil, “there are other ways.  There’s a theory among the people that when the Saviour comes, the Messiah, He will come floating in the clouds, descending in power and great glory upon the temple.  What about that?  Give the people a sign.  Advertise yourself, throw your weight around, let them know who you are.  Show them your credentials.  Cast yourself down into their wondering midst.  That is exactly the kind of magic they’re looking for.  People are as hungry for sensation as they are for bread.  You won’t get far as just a carpenter with nothing but the truth in your hand, especially your kind of truth, this ‘Blessed are the meek.’  They won’t go for that.  But a miracle, a spectacular miracle, undeniable proof, that will get them.  They’ll follow you anywhere if you will give them proof.  Advertise your alliance with the Almighty.  Give them a sign  . . . jump.”  And this, Jesus told His disciples later, was a temptation to Him.
   Are we surprised that He was tempted to impress the people with His power?  Everyone is.  And why not?  If to make people good, if to win them for God a convincing miracle is needed, why not? . . . if it serves a righteous purpose.  Why take the long way around struggling with people’s hearts, if by a turn of His hand, a shortcut, He could storm their hearts and win their allegiance right away by a dazzling demonstration of His miracles?  “Cast yourself down.”  He must have wrestled with this alluring possibility a long time.
   What would we have done if we had all power in our hands?  I imagine we would throw our weight around and let people know who is who and what is what.  But He rejected it . . . having heard in it the voice of the devil, He set it aside as useless to His long-term purpose.  Here in the wilderness, centuries before His time, His clear-eyed moral insight went right to the roots of one of the world’s oldest and most degrading evils . . .  the temptation of people to put their trust in magical religion.
   There are only two kinds of religion . . . magical and moral.  You can trace them all through history.  One looks to God to do things for us, the other looks to Him to do things in us and through us.  Put this down and remember it.  There was no temperament in Christ to leave folks helpless, infantile and undeveloped, and to do for them what they must do within themselves.  Magical religion does not make people good.  It may excite their wonder, but it does not change their hearts or make them better . . . it leaves them where they are.  It often makes them worse, producing the very opposite of goodness, encouraging them to look to God or government to do for them what they must do for themselves if they are to rise up to be His sons and daughters.  And perhaps the worst punishment God could visit upon us would be to answer all our prayers, to break through by miraculous intervention, heal all our diseases, solve all our problems and leave us children, undeveloped.  All through His ministry He was pestered with the question, “Give us a sign,”  and often He was depressed to see crowds around Him goggle-eyed with wonder at His miracles of compassion, while they blithely brushed off the moral meaning of His message.  He did not come to be a miracle man . . . He came to bring people to God.
   This world has always been a pushover for magical religion.  The church itself has been cursed with it . . . with shrines, good-luck charms and hocus-pocus.  What a mixture the church has been in spots, with goodness and superstition coming along together!  It is the kind of supermagic that feeds the hungry for sensation and leaves people no better than they were.  It is a persistent evil -- throw it out the door . . . it comes back through the window.
   So Jesus rejected the shortcuts, both bread and magic.  He thrust them aside as useless to His purpose, and then went on to face the most tempting of all temptations, power . . .political and military power . . . by far the most common foundation upon which all the kingdoms of the world are, and always have been, built.  The devil took Him to a high mountain and showed Him the kingdoms of the world.
   Think of all the ambitious people who have stood on that mountain looking down on the kingdoms, wanting to rule the world: Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler . . . and none of them with an ambition as far-reaching as that of this man in the desert, this Son of Man with God in His eyes.  He saw stretched out before Him the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them.  He wanted with all the passion of His soul to win them for God and to make them subject to God’s will.  “Pray then like this..... Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth . . .” (Matthew 6:9).  He wanted the world to love God!
   “Very well,” said the voice, “you can have it with just a little sidestepping.” The devil knows at lot about kingdoms --  he has been mixed up in them for a long time.  He pretty much gets his way with them.  “But you see,” he said, “what you have to do to get them.  These kingdoms are mine.  They don’t go much for God-talk.  They follow me. They’re mine.  They’re mine,” he said.  “But I’ll make a bargain with you.  Worship me a little, take my way, use my power to get them.  You have the right purpose.  I have the right weapons.  Let’s make a deal.  You haven’t a chance, you know, with your kind of power, righteousness, justice, love, and stuff.  They won’t go for that.  You’ll get yourself killed with that.  The odds are all stacked against you.  Don’t be a fool.  But a throne, a crown on your head, a sword in your hand, a little of my kind of power . . . let’s make a deal, pull together, and the end will justify the means.”
   Now just how much this was a temptation to Jesus we can only guess.  All through His ministry there were those who wanted to make Him king and who wanted to put a sword in His hand and have Him take the way of power.  But how much there in the wilderness, He thought of force as a way to achieve righteous ends, we do not know.   From our knowledge of Him today it seems rather unthinkable that He would even consider it, but there was nothing in that day to make it unthinkable.  To Mohammed it was not unthinkable.  To millions of Christ’s own followers it has not seemed unthinkable.  Think of the Holy Wars, of the conquests under the church flag, of the Crusades marching out to kill in the name of Christ.  It was not unthinkable then, with Romans everywhere.  It was that kind of world.  We only know that He rejected it.  He did not believe that the end justifies the means.
   These are the principles He hammered out, there in the wilderness.  We often wonder what these people mean who think of the religion of Christ as visionary . . . a lovely story for the children . . . a beautiful sentiment . . . God, mother, home and heaven.  The way of Christ is the way of life to which people must turn somewhere, someday, to find the path to their hopes.  “It is written,” He said.  “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”  If you're going to come out where God is, you have to take God’s way to get there.
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« Reply #69 on: September 03, 2013, 01:31:28 PM »

Numbers 13:1-3, 25-33

“A Voice Crying in the Wilderness”


NUMBERS 13:1-3, 25-33: The LORD said to Moses, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites; from each of their ancestral tribes you shall send a man, every one a leader among them." So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the LORD, all of them leading men among the Israelites . . . .
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.  And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the Israelites in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh; they brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.  And they told him, "We came to the land to which you sent us; it flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.  Yet the people who live in the land are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.  The Amalekites live in the land of the Negeb; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites live in the hill country. and the Canaanites live by the "sea, and along the Jordan."
But Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, "Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it." Then the Men who had gone up with him said, "We are not able to go up against this people, for they are stronger than we." So they brought to the Israelites an unfavorable report of the land that they had spied out, saying, "The land that we have gone through as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are of great size.  There we saw the Nephilim (the Anakites come from the Nephilim); and to ourselves we seemed like grass hoppers, and so we seemed to them.”


   Once upon a time there was a man who had the courage to be in the minority.  For a while it looked as if it would cost him his life, but in the end it was his minority courage which made him outlive his contemporaries.  In fact, he has outlived them to this very day, so that his name is still remembered, while those who voted with the majority are long forgotten.
   His name was Caleb, and you’ll find his story in the Hebrew scriptures in the book of Numbers.  You may have the impression that Numbers isn’t a very exciting book, but Caleb’s story is not only one of the most exciting ever written, it is also one of the most instructive.
   When the Jewish people escaped the slavery of Egypt centuries ago, it was with the promise that God would give them a land of their own.  It was to be a land of abundance, described as flowing with milk and honey – which is a way of saying that it would have not only life’s necessities, but also some luxuries.  In time, the Jews were within striking distance of the land that had been promised to them.  They selected a committee to explore the land, to determine their best course of action.  It was a good committee.  All of them were leaders, each representing one of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The committee lacked female representation, unfortunately but that was typical of the times.
   At its best, a committee is an ingenious idea.  It gives the opportunity of acting with the wisdom of five or seven or a dozen persons rather than of one.  Every committee is an exercise in democracy. 
   One might say that the writer of Proverbs was endorsing committee action when he said:
      Without counsel, plans go wrong,
      but with many advisers they succeed.
      (Proverbs 15:22)
Something special can happen when several minds interact; one good mind, brushing against another, will often set up such intellectual friction that a full-blown fire is kindled.
   Unfortunately, however, committees seldom fulfill their potential.  Any of us who have given interminable hours of our lives in committee meetings will testify to that.  Often it’s because members of a committee don’t prepare for the meeting, each one assuming that others will carry the weight, or perhaps thinking that something magic will happen just because half a dozen unprepared people have gotten together.
   But usually there’s a greater problem.  Committees tend to make people cautious.  That’s why committees almost never produce startling insights or dramatic action.  They tend, even more than individuals, to follow the path of least resistance.  A certain lethargy is native to committees.  They feel obligated to be ponderous and deliberative.  Often they bow under the weight of their own impressiveness.  Some committees seem to feel that it’s their responsibility to cut an idea down to manageable size.  And in the process, they often leave the idea bleeding and dying.  No one can estimate how many brilliant ideas have been born in committees, or brought to committees by imaginative members, only to be molded at last, by committee action, into a tame, routine, dull, colorless thing.  Who can say how many committee mountains have strained for months to bring forth a molehill idea?
   Israel’s Committee of Twelve made a forty-day study.  They fulfilled their assignments rather dangerous one, frankly . . . and they did it well.  They examined a large area of the land, and brought back samples of grapes, pomegranates, and figs.  The land was rich!  A cluster of grapes was so large that two men were needed to carry it back on a pole between them, as Exhibit A of their study.
   When the committee returned, it was greeted with great excitement.  “The land flows with milk and honey,” they said, “and here is a sample of its fruit.”  But at that point, the majority report turned sour.  “Yet the people who live in the land,” they continued, “are strong, and the towns are fortified and very large; and besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there” (Numbers 13:28).  Then they proceeded to list other names that terrified  them  -- Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Canaanites -- names that today sound like parties to a comic opera, but to the Committee (or at least to its majority) they were a litany of despair.
   As I read the report in Numbers, I can almost feel the silence settling over the gathered throng.  Children who had jumped and danced at the sight of the fruit of the promised land now slipped into their mothers’ skirts.  Men bowed their heads and their shoulders sagged.  Here and there in the crowd, women sobbed and old men shook their heads in resignation.  These were people who had never known anything but slavery, and some of them were now thinking that they were never intended to be more.  Slowly, an unhappy murmur began to build.
   At this point, our man Caleb began his minority report.  He quieted the people, then said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it” (Numbers 13:30).  Immediately the majority – ten of the twelve Committee members! -- answered, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.  The land we explored devours those living in it.  All the people we saw there are of great size.  We seemed like grasshoppers; in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:31b, 32b, 33b NIV).
   Did you notice the inconsistency in that majority report?  It would be hilarious if it weren’t so pathetic.  The Committee said, on the one hand, that the land devoured its inhabitants; and in the next, they declared that the inhabitants were men of great stature, veritable giants!  You can’t have it both ways, can you?  But they were painfully correct in one specific.  They said they felt like grasshoppers in their own eyes and looked the same to their potential enemies.  It’s very clear that when a person feels like a grasshopper, other people will soon come to the same conclusion.  The image we carry of ourselves is usually, eventually, the image others get.  Each of us is three people: what we are, what we perceive ourselves to be, and what others see us to be.  And what others see us to be is usually closer to what we perceive ourselves to be than to what we are.
   A cry rose up in the camp.  The people wept all that night.  Then they began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, the leaders of the fledgling nation.  They said they wished they had died in Egypt – the land where they had been slaves, and from which they were so glad to be delivered that they had sung like angels upon their escape – or that they had died in the wilderness in which they were now traveling.  Then, suddenly, someone said, “Let’s choose a captain and go back to Egypt.”  Back to slavery! Can you imagine that?
   Moses and Aaron fell on their faces, and Joshua and Caleb, who had offered the minority report, rent their clothing, which was a demonstration in the ancient Middle East of grief and shame.  I don’t know if Joshua was silent at the first reporting, but he was one of the twelve spies, and he was the only one who at last joined Caleb in the minority report.
   Caleb and Joshua appealed to the people.  They said that the land was good beyond description, perhaps pointing again to the collection of fruit.  And it could be theirs, they insisted, if the Lord delighted in them.  It was land, they said, which flowed with milk and honey.  Then they pushed the crucial point: The Lord is with us, so we have no reason to fear the enemy.
   So how did the people respond to this courageous cry from the minority?  They decided to stone them!  They wanted to stone Caleb and Joshua for believing and hoping, and they would choose instead to return to their former condition of slavery, or to die en route.
   It sounds irrational, doesn’t it?  But unbelief makes a person irrational.  There’s a popular idea that insists faith is irrational, and no doubt there are instances where faith is so misused.  But unbelief is far more irrational.  It makes us our own worst enemies.  When we live with doubt and fear, we take sides against ourselves.  What could be more irrational than that?  Only this: that unbelief also makes us line up against God.  Now that, believe me, is irrational!
   So the minority said, “We can do it,” and the majority answered, “We’ll never make it.” And of course both were right.  In the next forty years, the majority proved they were right, and it wasn’t hard, either.  All they had to do was to do nothing, and most of us are good at that.  But the minority also proved, in a little more than forty years, that they were right.  Really, finally, wonderfully right  – a rightness that proved how wrong the majority had actually been.
   I have a great deal of regard for minority reports.  Take American history, for instance.  The venerable American historian John Hicks said that when the American Revolution began, those who wanted freedom from England were doubtless a minority.  As for those who really, measurably supported the Revolution, they were an almost minuscule minority.  During the winter at Valley Forge, Washington’s army was a bare two thousand men, and the people of America weren’t willing to pay taxes to support the cause.  We moderns enjoy what the world hails as American freedom because of a minority, and the dogged devotion with which they held to their minority position.
   The church has a debt to its minority positions, too.  The genius of Catholicism has been its readiness to accept new Orders, like the Jesuits and the Franciscans, who have revitalized the whole body by their vigorous minority energy.  The genius of Protestantism is the spiritual renewal which has repeatedly occurred through the influence of minority movements.  We may not agree with everything that has been said and done by all the splinter groups in Protestantism, but we owe them more than we will ever fully realize, and surely more than we will acknowledge.  When Protestantism had lost sight of the role of faith in physical and emotional healing, Christian Science made it an issue.  Seventh Day Adventists have kept us alert to the issue of religious liberty and to a concern for the Sabbath.  Pentecostal bodies have reawakened us to the importance of the Holy Spirit.  If ever the day comes when Protestantism, or most of it, is united in one large denomination, that denomination had better have room for vigorous minority reports.  If it doesn’t, little churches will soon break off from the one big church.  And if I happen to be around at that time, you’ll probably find me among them.
   I’m not giving a blanket endorsement to minority voices.  My case is for the responsible minority.  I hold no respect for people who are in a minority simply because they want to be different, nor for those who are working out their neuroses in some religious or political expression.  Some minority movements are thoughtless and destructive, and many can see no farther than their own small agenda, until they think their little agenda is the business of the whole universe.  Nevertheless, what organization or what nation can dare to close its mind to the voice of minor segments within its group?  And who can say what potential melody may be found in even the unseemly dissonance of one apparently irrational voice?
   The people were preparing  to stone Caleb and Joshua because they could not hear the melody in their minority report.   Then God intervened.  Judgment was pronounced on the faithless nation.  Not one of the generation that had seen the wonders of the Lord delivering them from Egypt and had now retreated from entering the promised land would never enter that place.   They would wander in the wilderness until all of their adult generation had passed away.  Of the original group, only Caleb and Joshua would ever enter the inheritance which had been promised to all the people.
   So for forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness.  Some say the number is symbolic: a matter of wandering a year for each day the Committee had spent in its research of the promised land.  Others point out that forty years is essentially the time span for an adult generation.   Still others argue that the wilderness in which they were supposed to have wandered really wasn’t large enough to contain them for such a long period.
   Those who raise this latter argument know geography better than they know human nature.   I’ve known people who lived all their lives without really leaving “block” in which they were born:  not because they were happy in that block, but because they didn’t have the gumption –  faith, if you please –  to rise up and find a new life.  And I’ve known churches that stagnated, slowly dying, for a whole generation without taking a step forward for God because –  like Israel –  they had to wait for a generation to die off before they could hope to move ahead.  The truth is, it would have been a miracle if the Israelites had gone into the promised land as long as that negative generation was living – much more of a miracle, really, than their wandering for forty years.
   As for Caleb, our saint of the minority report, he saw the promised land.  Of course he did!  How could it be otherwise?  His whole generation died in the wilderness, but he walked in the promised land.  Caleb’s minority report was the product of his faith.  He saw the land after forty years, and possessed it, because he saw it – and saw it in a way ten of his companions could not – when he was part of that Committee exploration forty years before.  Caleb looked, at life through the eyes of faith, and as a result, he saw much more than others saw.  Consequently, he got more out of life than others got.
   People of faith are always making minority reports.  The world around them goes with the times, the fads, the headlines – and yes polls!  But those who choose to follow God in faith always are in sight of a higher goal than the latest stock market report, society column, or public opinion sampling.  They somehow see the purposes of God, even when the noise and bluster of society would seem to drown them out.  No wonder then that one day they get to the promised land!  When you have faith, you’re not willing to die in the wilderness.  You’ve seen God and God’s will, you intend to follow on until that eternal goal has been reached.
   And you’ll be there when it happens.  You can count on it.







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T.Y., Brandi!


« Reply #70 on: September 04, 2013, 05:59:42 AM »

http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2013/09/02/nyad-my-motto-this-year-is-find-a-way/?hpt=ac_t2
September 02, 2013


Diane Nyad: My motto this year is 'find a way' 

Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks with 64-year-old Diana Nyad about her record breaking swim from Cuba to Florida.

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« Reply #71 on: September 05, 2013, 08:05:06 AM »

http://ac360.blogs.cnn.com/2013/09/02/nyad-my-motto-this-year-is-find-a-way/?hpt=ac_t2
September 02, 2013


Diane Nyad: My motto this year is 'find a way' 

Dr. Sanjay Gupta talks with 64-year-old Diana Nyad about her record breaking swim from Cuba to Florida.



Great accomplishment!

Never, never quit!
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T.Y., Brandi!


« Reply #72 on: September 10, 2013, 03:14:47 PM »

Hi Monkeys,

I find this inspirational.
My gggg American Revolutionary grandfather would agree, with the author!
Someone saved us from being trush into a world War3, IMO.
 




Putin is the one who really deserves that Nobel Peace Prize

By K.T. McFarland /
Published September 10, 2013 / FoxNews.com




In one of the most deft diplomatic maneuvers of all time, Russia’s President Putin has saved the world from near-certain disaster. He did so without the egoistical but incompetent American president, or his earnest but clueless Secretary of State, even realizing they had been offered a way out of the mess they’d created.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/09/10/putin-is-one-who-really-deserves-that-nobel-peace-prize/#ixzz2eWFF1XZs

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/09/10/putin-is-one-who-really-deserves-that-nobel-peace-prize/#ixzz2eWEaaDjV
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« Reply #73 on: November 19, 2013, 05:45:08 AM »

The Mud Is Not Our Home

   You can be going through a rough time, but you don t have to have a rough mind   one without any dreams, determination, hope, or vision of things being  better.  And what is said of a people applies to an individual: Where there is no vision an individual perishes   and possibly his or her children.
   You can be in a state that you can no longer serve the Lord like you would like to . . . or used to . . .. but you don t have to have an unserving mind.  We know the most holy thing we can do for one another is pray -- and you don t even have to arise out of your bed to do that for others.  You may be sickly, but your mind is not.
   It doesn t matter what your "job" is in this life -- you can be a janitor, a waitress, a salesclerk, or a servant and have what some people would refer to as a menial job as long as you remember that a janitor, a waitress, a clerk, a mail handler, or a servant is what you do to earn a living   it is not what you are.  You can have a career that is regarded as a lofty one.  But each one of us . . . we are God s child of character and commitment, intelligence and integrity.  You are a big person occupying a small spot.  Because you know who and what you are, you don t allow your surroundings to determine or to define your self-worth.
   Jeremiah 38:6-13 is a case in point..  The prophet Jeremiah had been imprisoned because he had told the truth.  He had learned the hard way that everyone who claims to want to hear the truth doesn t really want to hear it.  More often than not people want to hear their own opinions and views agreed to by others.  If you want to get into trouble with some people, if you want to lose friendship with some people, tell them the truth.  Most of us go through life deciding between the truth and the politically wise thing to say, between the truth that angers and offends and the truth that is stretched or left unsaid, that consoles and doesn t create any waves.
   Jeremiah was one of those persons who made people nervous because he was determined to tell the truth as he saw it.  Tact was not his thing   truth was. Politics were not his thing   principles were.  Ingenuity was not his thing   integrity was.  Slyness was not his thing   sincerity was.  Game playing was not his thing   genuineness was.  You wouldn t want to ask Jeremiah his opinion of an outfit that was too tight or too gaudy.  He would tell you.  You wouldn t want to ask Jeremiah his opinion of your family or your children.  He would tell you.  You wouldn t want to ask Jeremiah his opinion of you, your lifestyle, or your values.  He would tell you.  And if you were the king, you wouldn t want to ask Jeremiah his opinion of your policies.  He would tell you.
   That was the mistake that Zedekiah, king of Judah, made when the Babylonians were preparing to attack Jerusalem.  Zedekiah was preparing to hold out.  But because Jeremiah believed the judgment of God was upon Judah, he advocated surrender.  Some of the king s counselors and top officials, who had the most to lose, felt that Jeremiah should not be openly preaching a message of surrender and discouraging the hearts of the people and the morale of the soldiers. Thus, they imprisoned Jeremiah   they lowered him into a well with no water and left him there to die.  And Jeremiah sank in the mud.
   Picture Jeremiah, the devoted, uncompromising prophet of truth, sinking in the mud.  Every life spends some time in the mud.  Your faith hasn t really been tried until you have spent some time in the mud.  Read the biographies of great men and women, and you will discover that before they made their great discovery, or wrote their literary masterpiece or musical score, or painted the picture that has carved them a place in immortality, they spent some time in the mud.  Before they were inducted into the hall of fame or accomplished the great feats for which they are known or saw their dreams come true, they spent some time in the mud.  They felt themselves sinking into the mud, where all seemed lost, where they felt forsaken and forlorn, where their lives seemed to be in vain and dreams seemed impossible to attain.  Sometimes life and misfortune put us in the mud.  Sometimes our miscalculations and mistakes, weaknesses, sins, and flaws put us in the mud. Sometimes other people, through meanness or envy, fear or resentment, put us in the mud.  Sometimes Satan s attempts to break our faith and spirit put us in the mud.  Every marriage that survives has some mud on it.  Every friendship or relationship of substance has some mud on it.  Every dream that is realized has some mud on it.  Every career, no matter how successful, has some mud on it.  A faith strong and holy, noble and cleaned up, has some mud on it   mud that clings, stinks, and stains.  Every life goes through the mud.
   See Jeremiah in the mud asking God, "Why do the wicked prosper and scoundrels enjoy peace?"  See Joseph lowered into the pit by jealous brothers   in the mud.  See David playing crazy to save his life   in the mud.  See Abraham lying instead of believing to protect himself   in the mud.  See Noah, the most righteous of his generation, lying outside of his tent drunk and naked   in the mud.  See Elijah running from Jezebel   in the mud.  See Job cursing the day he was born   in the mud.
   See John the Baptist locked up in prison and awaiting death wondering if Jesus is who John thought he was   in the mud.  See Peter cursing and denying his Lord and then going off by himself and weeping bitterly   in the mud.
   Have you ever been in the mud when it seems as if God has turned a deaf ear to your prayer, when living right and doing right doesn t seem to do any good after all?  The harder you try the deeper you sink into the mud, where sin has you and you can t get out.  When you find yourself in the mud, remember this truth: The mud is not your home.  No matter how long we ve been there, no matter how many times weve tried and failed to get out, the mud is not our home.  That is the message that somebody needs to take to straying daughters, wayward sons, fallen wives, and backslidden husbands   the mud is not your home.  Some of us have messed up careers, lost jobs and positions, broken hearts of those who loved us, disappointed those who believed in us   the mud is not your home.  Some of us who are sick have been told by the devil that we aren t worth much and can t be productive.  Dont believe it   the mud is not your home.
   Whenever you find yourself in the mud for any reason, take a good long look at yourself in the mirror and say, "The devil is a liar   the mud is not my home. God can still make a way for me, Jesus  blood can still save me, the Holy Spirit can still work a miracle within me and upon me   the mud is not my home.  I m not dead yet.  I still have a chance for recovery, for wholeness, for healing, for health   the mud is not my home.  If God brought others out, God can bring me out   the mud is not my home.  Even in the mud, God is good all the time. Therefore, the mud ought not be, will not be, cannot be, Im not going to let it be    my home. Amen! Praise God! Thank you, Jesus! Hallelujah!
   See Jeremiah feeling forsaken and forlorn, sinking in the mud.  While he was sinking, however, help was coming from an unexpected source. In the king s household there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a son of Africa, a black man named Ebed-melech, who respected Jeremiah.  He went to the king to plead Jeremiah s case..
   When Jeremiah s own people had put this noble prophet in the mud, it was a black man who went to see about getting him out.  Virtue defends and appreciates virtue.  For Ebed-melech to defend Jeremiah, he had to be virtuous like the prophet. He had to have Jeremiah s integrity and honesty.  He also had to have courage and convictions like Jeremiah.
   A number of scholars have told us that blacks were uncivilized savages during biblical times.  Evidently, they haven t read their Bibles and heard of the Queen of Sheba in Solomon s time, or Ebed-melech of Jeremiah s time, or Simon who helped Jesus carry his cross.  The uncivilized among Jeremiah s own people put him in the mud, but it was a humane, refined, articulate, intelligent, religious black man named Ebed-melech who understood that he was bigger than his surroundings, who tried to get the prophet out. He may not have had the riches of others, but he was not impoverished in his thinking and poor in his spirit. He knew he was God s child.
   Ebed-melech told the king that those who put Jeremiah in the mud had acted wickedly against him.  The king gave him permission to save Jeremiah.  Ebed-melech didn t have any ladders to rescue Jeremiah, so he went to the storehouse and gathered rags and worn-out clothes, which he let down to Jeremiah in the cistern by ropes.  He told the prophet to put the rags under his armpits between his body and the ropes.  Then Ebed-melech lifted the prophet from the mud with rags and ropes.  Ebed-melech didn t have any sophisticated equipment; nor did he need any.  He used what was available to him   rags and ropes.  And although his equipment may not have been the best, his rags and ropes were sufficient to get the job done. 
   As a matter of fact, Christianity is a rag and rope religion. We are not saved by some great liturgical act or some marvelous intellectual theory, but by a carpenter s son who spent his life and ministry with people in the mud.  The stinky fishermen and Galilean sod busters who were his disciples were muddy people.  A much married woman at Jacob s well, a tax collector named Zacchaeus, lepers, prostitutes, a dying thief   those he ministered to and saved were all muddy people.  One day on a hill called Calvary he bore a rag and rope rugged cross and died for my sins and your sins.  He came to where we were in the mud and lifted us from grime to grace, sin to salvation, helplessness to hope, failure to faith, trouble to triumph, vice to victory, hell to heaven.
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T.Y., Brandi!


« Reply #74 on: December 10, 2013, 07:40:27 AM »

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiXjbI3kRus

David Bowie and Bing Crosby, "The Little Drummer Boy" Smile

 

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« Reply #75 on: March 30, 2014, 08:10:45 AM »

John 9

From the first day he could remember all was darkness.  For several years he thought the darkness was normal . . . his parents had always been kind to him . . . he could remember his father, holding tightly to his hand as he walked, pulling him this way and that to lead him . . . these tugs had always been kindly tugs showing the guidance and love of a parent.  Every now and then, when he was just learning to walk, his mother would suddenly swoop him up and he could sense a gasp of fear as she grabbed him.  It was only later in life that he realized he was different . . . it was later on that he heard comments from other people. 
   His parents kept him in the house most of the time and he learned where everything was and he could do almost anything he wanted to do . . . his home surroundings were familiar to him so there was never a problem in his own environment. 
   As he was growing up . . . he remembered some days when his mother and father would take him out in the country and just let him run . . . he would fall down in the grass and roll, just like any other child.  Then one day he rolled into a rock and his mother screamed . . . his father picked him up and cleaned and bound his cut and they were very protective from then on . . . no more running freely without their guidance.  They would only allow him . . . after the accident . . . to sit outside in his home in good weather and take in the warmth of the sun.  He became confined to his house and yard . . . it made him feel lonely.  As he sat there n the darkness listening to people go past . . . oh, there where a few who stopped and chatted . . . but mostly he was ignored . . . after all he was different.
   As he sat there in the darkness, he would wonder what would happen to him when his parents died . . . he would have to learn to beg to survive . . . the future looked bleak for him . . . and he had a lot of time just sitting there in the sun to think about life. 
   One day while he was sitting in the yard, he heard voices which he did not recognize . . . it seemed as if some people were having some kind of argument and he heard one man say – “Look Master, there’s a blind man,” and someone asked him, “How long have you been blind?”  He answered, “Since birth!”  Then another voice said, “Master here’s a question that has always bothered me and confused me . . . what is the answer?  Is this man’s blindness a result of his own sin or is it caused by the sins of his parents?”
   There was quite a discussion which followed and the young blind man didn’t quite understand what they were saying.  Then!  He felt something cool being placed on his eyes and he drew back – but something in the kindness of the hands and softness of the voice eased his fears.  The voice said, “Go up to the temple to the pool of Siloam and wash this off your eyes and you will see.” 
   This young man could not believe what he was hearing, and at first he thought someone was trying to play a trick on him.  Then he felt his father beside him and his father took his arm and away they went.  After a few minutes his father said, kneel and wash your eyes . . . so he knelt . . . he felt for the water and splashed it upon his face and rubbed his eyes.  The suddenly . . . he thought he saw some movement and then things began to come into focus . . . he looked up and for the first time, he saw the blue in the sky and the laughing face of his father . . . and be began to shout!  I see . . . I see . . . and when he returned to his house, still overcome with great joy at being able to see . . . the question about who was guilty was still going on . . . that fact that he could see was almost secondary importance.
   Throughout the late part of this 9th chapter of John, there is a theme of guilt:
 what is guilt?  Who is guilty?  Why is that person guilty and what is that person guilty of?
   The disciples begin that argument by assuming someone was guilty of the
blindness . . . Jesus set their minds at ease rather quickly, by saying, “Neither” . . . but the Pharisees continue to pursue the them and immediately changed the guilty party.  They said Jesus was now guilty because he had healed on the Sabbath.  Now that was a pretty weak argument and soon they found that could not win this argument . . . so they merely changed the guilty party . . . they called the young man who had been blind a liar . . . they placed the guilt on him and expelled him from the temple . . . some one to blame for those things they couldn’t understand . . . because they thought they should be able to understand everything . . . they thought it had to be possible to put a label of right or wrong on every act . . . that everything, every person either had God’s seal of approval or his stamp of censure.
   This morning, we come to celebrate the sacrifice of a man who by a single act of self-denial, made it possible for all of us to feel no guilt . . . made it possible for all of us to be free of our sins.  Jesus told the Pharisees that if they had been blind, they wouldn’t have been guilty, . . . but when they claimed to see . . . claimed to know it all . . . refused to listen to the real truth . . . regardless of what they thoughts they knew    . . . their guilt remained.
   Jesus said this so many times in his teachings . . . Jesus came to earth to show us the true nature of God.  And time and time again he seized upon an event to give us a little more insight . . . remember one day when some mothers brought their children to him so that he could bless the, and the disciples told the mother to go away?  Jesus replied, let the little children come to me . . . never send them away . . . for the kingdom of God belongs to people who have hearts as trusting as little children . . . anyone who doesn’t have their kind of faith will never get within the kingdom’s gates.
   Remember the day he asked the disciples who the people thought he was . . . and they answered, “The think you are Elijah or John the Baptist or Jeremiah,” and then he asked them, “Who do you think I am . . . and Peter replied . . . You are the Christ . . . the Messiah . . . the son of the Living God" and Jesus replied, "God has blessed you, Peter with such faith.  You are a rock and upon this rock I will build my church.  It is this kind of faith that will sustain a common belief in me, and will cause people to bow down and worship me and remember me.
   Take another look at the young man who Jesus healed . . . throughout this entire chapter . . . the man continues to talk about Jesus . . . he continues to answer questions . . . the Pharisees ask him who Jesus is and he replies, "I don't know" . . .  They ask him again and he says, “He must be from God for one else has the power to do the things that he does” . . . and they ask him again and he says, “He must be a prophet”. And finally in the last few verses of this chapter, Jesus asks him that all important question . . . do you believe in the Messiah?  And the young man answers . . . who is he and Jesus said, “You have seen him and you are now talking to Him."  And  the young man said, “I Believe” . . . simple . . . no theology . . . no philosophy     . . . no great truths . . . believe as a little child . . . have the faith of the size of a mustard seed . . . believe . . .  wonderfully, simply believe.
   Part of that belief is that through Jesus our sins are forgiven . . . part of that belief is that Jesus has washed away the penalty for our sins . . . part of that belief is that Jesus says "NOT GUILTY."   To the Pharisees, he said, "you think you know . . . but you don’t . . . and as long as you stay blind to my teaching, you are guilty . . .  As long as you say you know what will save you and don’t accept me as your Savior, you guilt remains."
   The young blind man . . . who can now see. . . proved to be an outstanding champion for Jesus . . .  he defended him throughout this encounter . . . he was even kicked out of the temple for his beliefs and his convictions . . . but he had not met his Jesus . . . his Saviour . . . until he said in simple faith  "I BELIEVE". 
   AS members of the Body of Christ . . . as professing Christians . . . we sometimes think it is enough to "know" about Jesus . . . to do some work for Jesus . . . to preach about Jesus . . . to sing about Jesus . . . too many people believe happily and gratefully in Jesus as a friend . . . Jesus as a teacher . . . Jesus the leader . . . Jesus the helper . . .  but there is more to Jesus than these things . . .  ask yourself if you believe in Jesus . . . the Savior . . . Ask yourself if you are willing to bow down and worship Him . . . because he has saved you from eternal damnation!  Are you willing to truly believe?
   Others were spending much of their time trying to place this young man’s blindness on his parents . . . he was healed . . . he had accepted it . . . A miracle happened . . . and it upset everyone around except the young man . . . all the others were still trying to place guilt . . . and then the young man met the Master and said I believe . . . so being guilty or not guilty ceased to make a difference . . . you see, he had met his Savior . . . he had fallen to his knees to worship him . . . he had given himself to Jesus . . . completely.  Jesus doesn’t care how we get there . . . Jesus just cares that we do!
   The lack of sight does not mean that light is not there . . . Light reveals the condition of the eye . . . the light of the world reveals the condition of the soul . . .  some are blind, even when they think they can see. 
   Jesus can touch our spiritual vision and bring new life to the dead spiritual optic nerve . . . it is not a question of who sinned.  “For all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.”  If Jesus has not touched your eyes . . . your spiritual eyes . . . then you are blind . . . you can not see . . . yet this morning – remember His power to heal . . . even of our blindness.  Ask Him as you kneel here . . . to touch you . . . so when you leave, you too may shout, "I believe."
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« Reply #76 on: July 10, 2014, 10:10:42 AM »

2 Corinthians 12:7-10


   We believers justifiably and understandably emphasize the healing miracles of the Scriptures.  As we are all aware, the Bible is filled with instances of healing that come as a response to a command or prayer of faith by a believer.  Our problem is that while the Bible is full of examples of God saying yes to prayer requests from believers for healing . . . our own lives and experience are full of examples of God saying no to such prayers.  How do we respond when God says no . . . when as far as we can tell, based on our understanding and reading of the Scriptures . . . we’re saying and doing all the right things?  We are praying in the name of Jesus . . . we are praying in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . and we have invited the Holy Spirit to come.  We have touched and agreed with another believer and have bound the power of the adversary and rebuked the illness.  We have fasted and prayed the prayer of faith, have been anointed with oil, and have laid on hands.  We have prayed believing and expecting . . .and God still said no.
   Let me say at the outset that this is a very difficult message, because I do not have the answer to the troubling questions: “Why does God say no sometimes?  Why are some people healed and others not healed?”  I have prayed for some people, and God said yes.  Yet when I prayed for my own grandmother’s healing, God said no.  God didn’t say to wait . . . God said no.  I find it frustrating, baffling, and painful to visit believers who truly love the Lord and to see them suffer . . .and yet are unable to do anything about their condition.  I pray for their healing, others pray for them, and God still says no.  Then, at other times, when we are about to become completely discouraged, we pray for somebody else for whom only a miracle will do, and God says yes.  We are amazed and awed again by the power of God.  Why are some people healed and others who are just as deserving not healed?  To put the matter personally . . . why are some people healed when my mother, my father, my companion, my child, my best friend are not?  To put the matter even more personally, why are some people healed when I am not?  God, why are you saying no to my healing?
   That was the question Paul was wrestling with in the text.  Paul began this chapter by talking about a momentous spiritual experience he had had in which he was taken up to heaven.  He did not know whether the experience was in the body or out of the body, but while he was there, he saw and heard inexpressible things.  Paul stated further that to keep him from becoming conceited about his experience in the heavenly realm, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger from Satan, was given to him to torment him.  Now I do not know what the thorn was . . . but I believe two things: it was physical and it was painful.  Thorns are painful.  Paul described this spiritual experience as having taken place fourteen years earlier.  We don’t know when Paul started being tortured by this thorn, but if it was anytime near the experience, he had been suffering a long time.
   As a good believer, Paul took his thorn to God in prayer not once or twice but three times.  Paul repeatedly prayed, pleaded, promised, and agonized with God to heal him, to take the thorn from him.  And guess what?  God said no.  Could God possibly say no to Paul whom he had taken to heaven and to whom he had revealed the inexpressible?  Could God possibly say no to Paul whose life he had turned around on the Damascus Road and whose feet he had put on a street called Straight?  Paul was blinded during his conversion experience.  He was healed of his blindness, but God said no to the removal of the thorn.  At the beginning of Acts 28 we read that Paul was shipwrecked on the island of Malta and was bitten by a poisonous snake . . . a viper fastened itself onto Paul’s hand.  Paul shook it off in the fire and went about his business.  He didn’t swell up and he didn’t die.  The Bible doesn’t even say that he prayed for healing . . . yet he was healed.  He was healed of a snakebite that the Bible doesn’t even tell us he prayed over . . . yet God said no when he prayed over his thorn.
   During his own ministry Paul was empowered to heal others.  In Lystra . . . he healed a man crippled from birth.  In Ephesus . . . he cast out a demon from a tormented girl, and in Troas . . . he restored life to a young man believed to be dead.  Yet his own thorn was not healed.  When he and Silas were locked in jail, they prayed and sang so powerfully that the earth shook, the prison doors flew open, and their chains fell off.  Yet when he prayed about his own thorn, nothing happened.  After God said no to Paid, God said instead. 
   When God says no, look for God’s instead.  God never says no without an instead . . . a substitute, another blessing, another answer, another revelation, another solution, another way.  God said no to Moses: “You will not enter the Promised Land.  Instead, I will transport you across the barriers of time and put you on the snow-kissed crest of Mount Hermon to speak with my Son, Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, who is about to give his life as a ransom for many.”  When David’s son by Bathsheba was stricken with illness and David prayed and fasted for the child’s life, God said no to David’s prayer, and the child died.  Later, when Bathsheba became pregnant again, God said yes, and Solomon was born.  The writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 11 that many of the faithful died without having received the promise.  Instead God prepared for them a better country, a heavenly one.
   When God says no, look for the instead.  That’s just a fancy way of saying what the old preachers used to say: “God will never close a door without opening up a window.”  Let me rephrase that: God will never close a window without opening up a door.  Often that which God opens for us and does for us, with us, and through us after a no is broader, deeper, taller, and more wonderful than the narrowness of our request.
   God said no to Paul’s request . . . instead the Lord spoke to him and said, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  Why grace?  The Lord could easily have said, “My love (or peace or will or salvation) is sufficient.”  Why grace?  Let’s remember what grace is.  Grace is the unsought, unasked for, and unmerited goodness of God.  Grace is what God does for us without our asking.  We ask for blessings, forgiveness, and peace . . . but grace is what God gives because God is good . . . all the time.  When God says no, God is saying, “I will give you what you need without your asking for it.” When you have a thorn, you may not know what to ask for.  The pain may be so acute . . . the heartbreak and sorrow may be so piercing . . . the burden may be so heavy . . . that you may ask for relief or release in any way, even death.  But remember, even without your knowing what to ask for, God will still take care of you.
   I once went to see a church member who had been hospitalized several times.  This individual was not simply a church member but was a true believer in the Word of God.  We had been praying for him very earnestly.  He went to the very threshold of death and recovered enough to return to church once again to worship, but after that he suffered a relapse and was again staring death in the face.  When I went to visit him in the hospital, he didn’t even recognize me.  I remembered that he had asked the Lord not to take his presence of mind away so that he would not find himself unable to call on the name of the Lord.  So I asked God, “Why would you let him get this way?  His greatest desire was that he have presence of mind to worship you.”  But I think I understand now, the Lord is saying, “Without their asking, I will take care of my own.  Whether this believer has presence of mind to call upon me or not, I’m still taking care of him.  He’s still in my hands.”  When God says no, remember God’s grace is still sufficient.  God takes care of you even without your asking.
   I could end this message here with these words: “My grace is sufficient.”  Just knowing that without my asking, God is going to bless me, keep me, protect me, feed me, and watch over me when I'm helpless is enough for me to shout my way, pray my way, and fight my way to victory.  But that is not all the Lord said.  The Lord also told Paul: “[My] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  In other words, the Lord says,
   After I say no, not only will I continue to take care of you, but my power will still work through you even in your diminished capacity and weakened condition.  Because you are weak, my power can compensate for anything you lack on your own.  What I will do in you will be all the more glorious and all the more miraculous because you are weak.  I know you desire to have all eight cylinders.  I’m going to leave you with only four, but when I get through with the four you have left, that four will do as much as eight.  My power is made perfect in weakness.
   This Paul, the one who had the thorn that God didn’t remove, wrote or influenced fourteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament, logged more miles in his travels, and established more churches than anyone else in the Bible.  He is quoted more often than anyone except Jesus.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   The great invitational hymn that has probably brought more souls to Christ than any hymn ever written, “Just As I Am,” was composed by Charlotte Elliot, an invalid who was bedridden for fifty years.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   See blind Fanny Crosby writing “Blessed Assurance,” “Pass Me Not,” “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” “I Am Thine O Lord,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Close to Thee,” “Savior More Than Life to Me,” and over five thousand other hymns.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   See sightless Milton writing about paradise or deaf Beethoven composing symphonies or near-deaf Thomas Edison perfecting the phonograph.  “My power is made perfect in weakness.”
   When Paul realized all that God’s power could do through him . . . no wonder he moved off “Complaining Avenue” onto “Praise Boulevard” and said, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
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