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But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

 

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Why Attend Church?

The primary reason why men, women, children, young people – families and friends – should attend Church is to respect and obey God’s clear command: Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness (I Chronicles 16:29).  A one-hour worship service on Sunday morning at the beginning of each week offers those made in His Image an important opportunity to “be still” before Him and reestablish their bearings in the journey of life.

 We might ask ourselves a question.  Is this command given for the benefit of God or for the benefit of man?  Since God is totally self-existent and self-sustaining, He has no need of anything.  He continues forever, unchanged.  But we, who were created by Him, remain dependent upon Him throughout our numbered days.  So it is for the benefit of mankind that He has invited us – indeed, mandated us – to worship Him regularly.  He knows, even if we do not, the importance of weekly worship.

One honest look at mankind, and we catch a glimpse of why He is concerned for our well-being!  Man is self-destructive.  In his mad dash through life, he is easily misled into hurtful troubles and difficulties.  Blood pressures rise.  Tempers flare.  Stress consumes.  Jangled nerves yield thoughtless words.  Life soon resembles a grist mill.  A pressure cooker.  Apprehensions lead to anxiety.  Anxiety to fear.  Fear to worry.  And man finds himself under a mountain of phobias and neuroses and illnesses.    

God understands those made in His Image.  And He holds out hope and guidance.  His soothing Voice invites healing and peaceful calm – a personal relationship with Him.  Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.  He reminds us we are not alone.  He prompts us to return to Him Who possesses all strength and wisdom.  Who governs all.  Who cares about us.  Who assists and supports.  We all need downtime marked by silence and reflection.  Regeneration and renewal are necessities for the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

He openly invites us into an environment of encouragement.  The worship of the Ancient of Days, though personal, is never in isolation; it is a network of interpersonal care by others also traveling the path of life.  Church is a place where we may unwind and “recharge,” as it were.  Worry is left at the door and exchanged for acceptance, support and fellowship.  Church is a place where human hands and feet and hearts are offered in help.  It is not without reason that such an assembly is called a “Church Family.”

We are all on a pilgrimage through life to our eternal destiny.  Would anyone imagine embarking on a cross-country trip without scheduled stops for fuel?  And do we require any less?  Do you attend Church?  If not, why?  Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. 

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 Salvaged Driftwood

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10
 
A most unique catalog recently advertised some very beautiful and expensive furniture made of simple driftwood. The selection included a beautiful coffee table as well as rather tastefully designed dining tables, fireplace mantles, picture frames, bird cage stands and lamp stands – all utilizing simple driftwood! There was even included a driftwood Christmas tree! Prices ranged into the thousands of dollars! And all of the items were fashioned out of simple grayish-brown driftwood, weathered and bleached by the elements –wind and water, sun and sand! How very interesting it is that one piece of driftwood is picked up by passing beachcombers for use as fire wood, while another piece sitting next to it is picked up and fashioned into something incredibly expensive and coveted!
 
What is the difference between the two? The two could, in fact, be almost identical – sharing similar scars and breaks and snags and deterioration. Yet their fates are so divergent, so diametrically opposed!  I submit to you their outcomes are determined by the perspective of each beholder. One is viewed as having no value – or very little value – in its dead and gnarled form. Another is seen as having great worth on account of its unique shape or hidden potential! One is thought utterly worthless; the other deemed a coveted prize!
 
As such, salvaged driftwood can easily and accurately be considered a symbol of salvation. For it is saved from the fire to perform an important and noteworthy function! Interestingly enough, the words “salvage” and “salvation” share the same Latin root, salvus, which means to save or rescue from destruction. Michelangelo, perhaps the premier artist whose works so greatly shaped the Italian Renaissance, once salvaged a huge block of marble that Donatello had rejected because of imperfections. From it, he sculptured the immense and remarkable “David” – one of the grandest and extraordinary statues of all time.
 
That which, on a faint scale, Michelangelo could do with marble, Almighty God in Christ Jesus does continuously with His people! Those who are His followers are anything but perfect! Which of us is not marked by deep abrasions and scars acquired during the difficult seasons of life? Which of us has not in some manner been bent and bowed by trying forces beyond our control? And which of us has not in some defining way been scraped and scoured and tumbled by the unrelenting tides of life?
 
Just consider our Lord’s closest followers. Dear St. Matthew – formerly Levi – a hated tax-collector, twisted in an occupation rife with corruption. Others would have left him to his devices, but Jesus Christ picked him up as a beachcomber would a piece of denuded driftwood and made something noble of his life! Then there was St. Peter –formerly Simon – a driftwood-like figure marked by very real imperfections! His unsightly, impetuous snags and uneven, vitriolic grain would have been cast aside by any other passerby. But our Lord saw his potential and fashioned him into a great Church leader whose seasoned wisdom, indomitable commitment and relentless labors have drawn millions toward the redeeming strength of God’s truth and grace.
 
In considering the beauty and attractiveness of unique, finished driftwood, I am often reminded of the insightful and meaningful lyrics from years gone by:
 
Something beautiful. Something good.
All my confusion He understood.
All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife.
But He made something beautiful of my life.
 
Nothing is too difficult for God! Nothing! His vision for us – individually and collectively – is much greater and much more splendid than our own vision for ourselves. As the great cosmic Craftsman and Redeemer of mankind, His specialty is in saving and salvaging those otherwise deemed ruined and thought worthless. What is it that God is steadily and skillfully making of your life? What is He creatively salvaging of mine?
 
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.  World without end. Amen.
Bishop Johnson
 
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In The Hand Of God

Of all the words ever spoken by our first President, George Washington, perhaps these are the most significant and enduring: “The event is in the Hand of God.”

On May 14, 1787, the Constitutional Convention met at the State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and formulating the Constitution of the United States of America.  This involved the gathering of fifty-five remarkable representatives from across the land – virtually all of whom were members of Christian Denominations.  They came together in an undertaking that would change the world!  Freedom was their shared belief and securing it for posterity was their goal.  But almost immediately, an uncompromising battle of wills revealed itself in arguments, quarrels, and tempers over a number of important and heated issues!  Historians are almost unanimous in their assessment that, were it not for the dignity and careful impartiality of George Washington (unanimously elected as President of the Convention) they would soon have disbanded in tragedy with an irreparably broken union.  An important turning point came when Washington rose during the proceedings and admonished the delegates with the now famous words: "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God" (Farrand's Records of the Federal Convention of 1787).

As we celebrate yet another Independence Day here in America, with abundant freedoms and lavish celebrations to which we have grown so accustomed, we do well to remember these eight famous words, for they are so swiftly drifting from the consciousness of the land: “The event is in the hand of God.”  Truth be known, this statement is but a pale reflection of a far greater reality so capably articulated by the psalmist of old: It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.  It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes (Psalm 118:8-9).

This Fourth of July, let us remember just how impossible it is to account for America’s formation – and continuation – without the intervening Hand of God!  Our forefathers bravely fought and died to release this land from shackles which extended across the sea.  But muskets and bayonets cannot in and of themselves account for America!  We have most certainly been blessed with an overflowing supply of natural resources.  But rich soil, woodlands, streams and minerals cannot in and of themselves account for America!  Americans continue to display great national pride through heartfelt patriotism.  But even patriotism cannot in and of itself account for America! 

The strength of America has always been spiritual!  As we celebrate our freedoms, let us remember God’s role in the formation of this Republic.  And let us labor to preserve our forebears’ ideal – a standard to which the wise and the honest of every generation can repair!  Above all, let us not lose sight of the fact that our destiny remains “in the Hand of God.”

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The Governor Of The Nations

Of all events recorded in the annals of human history, the Fall of Rome surely stands as one of the most significant!  That the unthinkable happened is of signal importance.  And its profound meaning, even from such a great distance, should grip us and capture our attention.  It was the Christian theologian-linguist, Origen, who far away in his monastery in Bethlehem, summarized it so well: “The city which has taken the whole world is itself taken.”

Germanic tribes had threatened the Roman frontier for centuries.  But only a few tens of thousands of barbarians eventually brought about her downfall.  They wandered across the empire in the end – destroying at will – with virtually no defense made by citizens, public or private!  Roman military forces melted away in disgust when their esteemed General-in-Chief was executed on absurd political accusations, not based upon what he had done, but upon what he might do.  Roman taxation policy had become so blatant that collectors possessed authority to torture citizens to derive information on hidden assets.  It was on the night of August 24, A.D. 410 that Alaric stormed the walls of Rome in a surprise attack.  For the first time in 800-years, Rome was taken by a foreign enemy.  The psychological blow was enormous.

Why did Rome fall?  Certainly many factors were involved.  The Roman orator, Cicero, had warned: “The budget should be balanced. Public debt should be reduced. The arrogance of officialdom should be tempered, and assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest our nation become bankrupt.”  In addition, moral debauchery covered the land.  But central to the demise of Rome was the cynicism and distrust of her citizens toward their leaders!  They believed their nation, corrupt and beyond hope of reform, was no longer worth fighting to defend.  They concluded it was better off dead!  The British historian, Arnold Toynbee, articulated a famous maxim still with us today: Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder!  Certainly this was true of Rome.

Trivializing God

An old fable exists regarding a peddler in Warsaw whose life was most difficult. His destitution could not be hidden, for his clothing resembled the rags of a pauper, his long hours of hard work in freezing temperatures yielded next to nothing and his scant rations barely kept him alive. The small hut where he shivered in restless sleep each night was miserable, at best.  In general, he was as hard-working and as poor an individual as God’s angels could find. Caring deeply for this indigent – and understanding the heights to which he could rise given the opportunity – they one day asked the Lord to do something unique and wonderful on his behalf. In an instant, the peddler was transported from his frozen and windswept surroundings to the beauty and magnificence of Heaven! He was excitedly told that God would grant him anything he wished! “Anything?” asked the astonished peddler! “Anything!” came their ready reply. The peddler thought long and hard, then looked up at the waiting angels and said, “I’ll have a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut.”
 
An immediate gasp overcame the shocked angels! And then a look of horror and disappointment crept over them as they considered his frivolous reply. He could have asked for entry into heaven. He could have requested wealth to help others as a great benefactor. He could have sought wisdom to improve the lot of his countrymen. But his trifling reply had already been made: “I’ll have a hot cup of coffee and a doughnut.” He had trivialized God. And the reason he had trivialized God was that he himself was trivial!
 
The word “trivial” is a compound word consisting of tri (three) in combination with via (road). “Crossroads” were places where news was exchanged – usually unimportant information bordering on gossip. To trivialize is therefore to prefer insignificance over that which is important. Through his trivialization, the peddler had made God’s generosity a thing of little worth – and his own great privilege and calling equally unimportant!

The legendary peddler is not alone in his trivial ways.  We all tend to trivialize God!  Some trivialize Him by making His command to weekly exalted worship optional.  Others trivialize Him by setting aside His inspired word – the Sacred Scriptures – for the fallible opinions of mankind.  Yet others trivialize Him by proclaiming His remarkable and inspiring Creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) the product of a Big Bang!  We all surely trivialize God when we reject His generous offer of grace and mercy and forgiveness and guidance.

The psalmist of old furnished the needful corrective when he prayed: Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty (Psalm 104:1).  The vision of God’s greatness is once again needed in our day.  The vision of God’s greatness will certainly preserve us from trivializing ourselves and others – for there is much, much more to life than just coffee and doughnuts!

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 What Is Wealth?

Years ago, a man in South Africa sold his farm in order to spend his time and energy in search of diamonds – for he was consumed with the pursuit of wealth.  In due time, health and resources exhausted, he realized he was no closer to his elusive fortune than the day he had first begun his quest.  Soon thereafter, he died.  One day, the man who had purchased his property discovered a most unique-appearing stone in the creek bed.  He took it and situated it prominently inside his home as a conversation piece.  Not long thereafter, a visitor examining the stone with great interest explained it actually appeared to be a diamond.  On his recommendation, the farmer discreetly obtained an assessment.  To his amazement, it turned out to be one of the largest diamonds ever found!  He immediately gathered all other objects of similar appearance in his creek, and lo and behold, they all turned out to be diamonds!  The farm which the diamond-seeker had sold turned out to be one of the richest diamond deposits in the world!
What a vivid portrait we discover here of the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve – in torrid pursuit of that which is all around them, but unable to obtain it!  Mankind seeks meaning and coherence in this world, but cannot see it – let alone acquire it – for his pursuit is along all the wrong avenues.  How many have spent their entire lives chasing happiness through wealth and affluence – only to discover at their final end, a bitter emptiness of soul and the gnawing void of disappointment?  In 1899, John Muir participated in an Alaskan scientific exploration sponsored by the incredibly wealthy railroad executive, E. H. Merriman.  When a fellow traveler spoke to Muir effusively regarding Merriman’s wealth, he replied, “I am richer than Merriman.”  Following an awkward pause, he continued, “I have all the money I want.  Merriman does not.”

And so it is with a great number of people in this world whose lives are filled with the fury of pursuit.  They may, indeed, possess considerable wealth, as this world knows it.  But, alas, they enjoy precious little of the abiding peace and tranquility of soul ever so close, but eternally distant, from them.  Jesus told His disciples on one occasion, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (St. Luke 12:15).  True wealth is not found in materialism.  Far from it!  The richest people on this earth are surely those whose hearts are full of love for others, whose minds are occupied with worthy ideals, whose memories are enriched by thoughtful and gracious deeds.  The most affluent among us are those who know the Creator and who quietly and reverently drink deeply from His unending wellspring of spiritual life as described in the Holy Scriptures!  The “wealthiest” in life are often the “poorest” in the eyes of this world!  How wealthy are you?
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Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving may be understood and expressed at different levels!  At the simplest level, a person may be thankful because he or she has been privileged with something not all others may possess.  One of the oldest manifestations of this states: “I was sad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”  The next level of thanksgiving has been termed an “attitude of gratitude” – an expression more general in nature, but heartfelt because of an awareness this earth is a sphere of scarcity.  But the highest level of thanksgiving is the intensely personal expression of thanksgiving directed to the source of all goodness – Almighty God Himself – in whose great Hands are our lives and our very breath.  The psalmist of old wrote: Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.  For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations (Psalm 100:4-5).
Thanksgiving Day expresses a rich Christian heritage.  The first Thanksgiving, you recall, was among the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, when Governor Bradford declared a special day of gratitude to Almighty God for their first harvest!  Two years later, in 1623, a day of prayer and fasting in the midst of drought was changed into Thanksgiving by the coming of rain during their prayers.  Christian colonial America adopted this same custom first begun by the Pilgrims, and this practice continued for 150-years!  And 221-years ago on November 26, 1789, President George Washington issued a general proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving to God on account of His blessings upon the new nation!  With Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, Thanksgiving became an annual observance in America – and a custom deeply embedded in our national consciousness!
In days of declining prosperity, we all might appreciate a very meaningful tradition first begun by our Pilgrim forebears.  For many years after the first Thanksgiving, Pilgrim parents placed five humble kernels of corn upon each family member’s dinner plate before the Thanksgiving Day meal.  When their children asked the meaning of these kernels, the parents explained that at one time food was so scarce in Plymouth Colony each person was given a five corn kernel allowance each day in order to keep them alive.  And they were very grateful and filled with thanks!
Many Americans – having forgotten our humble national origins, and having deluded themselves into thinking they are the source of all they enjoy – are being given a good long look at such folly as they see poverty once again prevalent among us.
Let us remember that where we may have no shoes, others still have no feet.  Let us regain the lost attitude of gratitude.  But let us especially – together – reclaim once again the humble recognition that all we have is truly a gift from Almighty God!  Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.   
 
 
The Power Of Purpose
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her (St. Luke 1:38).
The power of a good purpose in one’s life is extraordinary!  Jack Kelly is a name most have forgotten.  But during World War II, it was emblazoned across millions of newspapers!  Why?  Eight-year old Jack was evacuated from his homeland at the beginning of the conflict to escape the devastation caused by German bombings of British cities.  But on the way to America, his ship was torpedoed in the mid-Atlantic.  When Jack bobbed to the surface, he clutched some floating debris until other survivors rescued him in a floating raft.  What do you suppose were the first words out of the half-frozen and sopping-wet boy?  “I want my mother?”  “Am I going to die?”  “Who will take care of me?”  Nothing of the sort!  The first sputtering words that passed through his blue lips were governed by his controlling purpose – “Which way is America?”  Can you imagine that?  His gritty determination and heroic stubbornness became quite a sensation! 
Good purposes can be very powerful!  They can shrink many fearful problems to manageable levels.  And they can cause petty concerns to vanish altogether.  Young Jack’s controlling purpose of getting to America calmed his fears and quelled his emotions which could have easily flashed into panic as he was carried up and down in the great, undulating swales of the Atlantic.  But his apprehensions were tamed and subdued to his overarching purpose of getting to America!
We see precisely the same thing in the words of young Mary to the archangel Gabriel, following his announcement to her that she would give birth to the Son of God!  She could have become petrified in his overpowering presence.  She could have fallen into catalepsy as she attempted to process the staggering proportions of his message.  But her controlling purpose of glorifying the Almighty and honoring Him with her life commanded such fears and anxieties to be still and retreat into a subservient role.  And what we find recorded for our edification is her beautiful and calm reply, Be it unto me according to thy word.  These words convey a tranquility almost beyond description!  It has been stated that the world’s most common prayer to God is “Thy will be changed” – but that the world’s most magnificent prayer remains “Thy will be done.”  Mary took the latter and applied it to herself, personally: Be it unto me according to thy word! 
What is your controlling purpose in life?  What governs your thoughts and actions and emotions?  What carries you forward when barriers bar the way?  These are important questions we should contemplate and answer with the help of the Almighty – as we progress through Advent.  These are worthy considerations as we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. 
The power of a good purpose in one’s life is extraordinary!  What good purpose motivates you?
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Forgive Us Our Debts
Last week, America’s national debt crossed the 14-trillion dollar threshold – a number so immense, it requires twelve zeroes just to express it in writing!  And the number is growing larger at the astounding rate of over one-trillion dollars each year.
Two thousand years ago, the Galilean carpenter taught us to pray the simple words: Our Father which art in Heaven… forgive us our debts (St. Matthew 6:12).  Each day the wisdom behind these profound words – that indebtedness is terribly destructive to individuals and corrosive to society – is coming into sharp focus!  Like a lifeline in a terrible storm, debt-free living is becoming more attractive and displaying a luster of wisdom not previously appreciated – at least to the millions who are in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings or home foreclosures or business liquidations.  Even churches are now filing for bankruptcy protection – such as the mega-church in Orange County, recently citing $55-million in unmanageable debt.  The collective cry of sinking debtors the world over, are beginning to sound a lot like the inspired words our Lord taught us to pray – forgive us our debts.
 
It was Benjamin Franklin who coined the famous dictum – now long forgotten -- warning us against the dangers of debt: “He that goes a borrowing, goes a sorrowing.”  For though God may forgive us our follies, creditors do not!  The out-of-control debt levels in America are actually much worse than we would like to admit, according to Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff.  “Forget the official debt,” he intones. The “real” deficit – including non-budgetary items such as the unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the defense budget – is actually $202 trillion, he calculates.  This is fifteen times the “official” numbers.  America has become the singular largest debtor nation in the history of the world!  If we do not understand this fact, then we will not be able to even begin interpreting the calamitous events currently unfolding.
What does the Creator Who designed this world and formulated its laws have to say about debt?  His clear command, found in Deuteronomy 28:12, issued as the Twelve Tribes of Israel entered the Promised Land, is cogently summarized in four simple words: Thou shalt not borrow!  How wise and reliable these words have been along the corridor of history!  What friends they have become to those who have honored them!  But why, we might ask, did the Almighty issue such a firm command?  In Proverbs 22:7, King Solomon furnishes us the reason: The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.  Those made in God’s Image are to resist slavery – and remain free under His rule alone!
Is has been said that people either know history or they become history!  If America does not change her profligate ways, she will soon become history – as have many other great nations which also once ruled the world!  May our nation once more discover the wisdom behind the prayer our Lord taught us to pray: …forgive us our debts!
   
 
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   Life Is Worth Living

A similar cynicism has taken root in the Western world of our day which doubts the wisdom, honesty and trustworthiness of leaders.  Its expression is frighteningly akin to that which presaged the Fall of Rome.  Distrust in the apparatus of the modern State has led to a comparable despair and foreboding concerning the future.  It is at such times that mankind must stop and remember God, who governs all things.  The psalmist observed: For the kingdom is the LORD's: and he is the governor among the nations (Psalm 22:28).  At such times, mankind must repent of individual folly and collective waywardness before Him.  We need His help!  If ever a time existed for the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve to humbly return to Him, Who holds the future in His hands, to trust and serve Him wholeheartedly – seeking His Kingdom and will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven – it is now.  For He is the Governor of the nations.
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