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One of the earliest and the most outstanding intellectuals, leaders and defenders of the Christian faith was Augustine, the fourth century writer of the “Confessions of Saint Augustine,” one of the most famous tell-all autobiographies written. Young Augustine was a hedonist, a philosopher, an agnostic, and a rebel, but his mother Monica was a godly, persistent, and resourceful woman. Augustine often laughed at her mother’s pious ways, mocked her faith, and deliberately defied her continual pleading for him to repent of his pagan lifestyle, to convert to Christ, and to live an exemplary life. When Augustine wanted to leave the shores of Carthage, North Africa, for the bright lights of Rome, his mother feared the worst for her son, dreaded the outcome of his leaving, and often fled to the church for solace, prayer, and advice. In her despair, she would often weep uncontrollably for her son. One day a minister noticed her painful cries, and asked her why she was so bitter. She told him of his wayward son, but the bishop assured her with these words: “Go in peace; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” Augustine avoided his mother as much as possible and ignored her warnings time and again, but he could not escape her continuous prayers. Monica painstakingly prayed, wept, and looked for her son for 30 years until Augustine surrendered his life to Christ. Life has its heartaches, and none is as heartbreaking as a rare, a stubborn, or an unspeakable illness that is dreaded for its physical onslaught, financial cost, and mental, emotional and physical toil. The Chinese saying, “Long-sick folks have no filial or obedient child by their bed.”
THE LIGHT OF HOPE
As Craig T. Kocher in his commentary on our text states, "Christian hope is fundamentally different from optimism. Christian hope locks its steely eyes on the devastation of the world around it, and readily acknowledges that things may not get better. Christian hope does not bury its heat in Yule-tide cheer and artificial lights, but like an Advent wreath glowing stronger and brighter each week, this hope pushes its way into the brokenness of the world clearing a path in the wilderness so the true light might burst into the darkness."
Kocher then goes on to cite a story told by Tom Long, about a rabbi Hugo Grynn, who was sent to Auschwitz as a little boy. In the midst of the concentration camp, in the midst of the death and horror all around them, many Jews held onto whatever shreds of their religious observances they could, without drawing the ire of the guards. One cold winter's evening, Hugo's father gathered the family in the barracks. It was the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Lights.
The young child watched in horror as his father took the family's last pad of butter and made a makeshift candle, using a string from his ragged clothes. He then took a match and lit the candle. "Father, no!" Hugo cried. "That butter is our last bit of food! How will we survive?"
"We can live for many days without food," his father said. "We can not live a single minute without faith and hope. This is the fire of hope. Never let it go out. Not here! Not anywhere!" [Pulpit Resource, Logos Productions, Inc, 2005]
From Ronald Harbaugh's Sermon "John the Baptizer Points to the Light that Shines in Our Darkened World"
Sermon Central Staff
A PEACEMAKING CHURCH
I can tell this story because one neighbor has died and the other neighbor no longer lives across the street from our church. Our neighbors endured the disruption of their lives as we built on to our church. I'm sure that contributed to their lack of patience with us. We put our dumpster next to the parsonage. We didn't want it on Rock Creek. It was believed that it would attract others continually filling it up, and it was not the first thing that we wanted people to see when they look at our church. One neighbor had a different point of view. He didn't like coming out of his front door and looking across the street at a dumpster. He wanted to know what we were going to do.
All the neighbors and some men from our church and myself met at the dumpster. This man was angry. After he'd let off some steam I asked where he recommended we put the dumpster. You know that was a dangerous question. What he wanted was to put it out front on the corner of our property. I said to the group let's go look at what he's talking about. I did not want to do this.
I walked with the neighbors and listened to their complaints. When we got out front the man began explaining why it was a good spot. I was thinking of why it was not a good spot. But Music Minister Jim Garling, who'd followed behind and heard the man complain from one end of the property to the other, looked at me and said, "Ed, this will be OK. We can make it work." As you can see to this day, that's exactly what we did.
There are shields inside the covers of the outside lights on the west side because the woman who lived across the street at that time complained that the lights were so bright that it lit up her living room and kitchen. We didn't have to do any of that. But we're Christians. We are people of peace. Those were minor actions to do good for our neighbors in order to live at peace with them.
Peacemakers release tension; they don't intensify it. Peacemakers seek solutions and find no delight in arguments. Peacemakers calm the waters; they don't trouble them. Peacemakers work hard to keep an offense from occurring. And if it has occurred, they strive for resolution. Peacemakers lower their voice rather than raise their voice. Peacemakers generate light not heat.
(From a sermon by Ed Sasnett, Like a Good Neighbor, 7/29/2011)
A LIGHT NAMED AL
On the morning of September 11, Jeannie Braca switched on the television to check the weather report, only to hear that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.
Jeannie’s husband, Al, worked as a corporate bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald. His office was on the 105th floor of Tower One.
Al had survived the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and had even helped a woman with asthma escape from the building.
Jeannie knew that Al would do the same thing this time, “I knew he would stop to help and minister to people,” she said, “but I never thought for a minute that he wouldn’t be coming home!”
A week later, like so many others who were in that building, Al’s body was found in the rubble. Al’s wife, Jeannie, and his son Christopher were devastated!
Then the reports began to trickle in from friends and acquaintances. Some people on the 105th floor had made a last call or sent a final e-mail to loved ones saying that a man was leading people in prayer.
A few referred to Al by name.
Al’s family learned that Al had indeed been ministering to people during the attack! When Al realized that they were all trapped in the building and would not be able to escape, Al shared the gospel with a group of 50 co-workers and led them in prayer.
This news came as no surprise to Al’s wife, Jeannie.
For years, she and Al had been praying for the salvation of these men and women. According to Jeannie, Al hated his job and couldn’t stand the environment. It was a world so out of touch with his Christian values, but he wouldn’t quit.
Al was convinced that God wanted him to stay there, to be a light in the darkness, and although Al would not have put it this way, to be a hero!
Al was not ashamed of Christ and Christ’s words…and he paid the price of taking up his cross daily. Al shared his faith with his co-workers….many of whom sarcastically nicknamed him “The Rev.”
And on that fateful day…on September 11, in the midst of the chaos, Al’s co-workers looked to him—-and...
GOD JUST NEEDS A VOICE
John Stott, a well-known British pastor and theologian, was invited to preach at the University of Sydney in Australia; but after he got there, he lost his voice. He describes his experience as follows:
"What can you do with a missionary who has no voice? We had come to the last night of the [evangelistic campaign]. The students had booked the big university hall. A group of students gathered around me, and I asked them to pray as Paul did, that this thorn in the flesh might be taken from me. But we went on to pray that if it pleased God to keep me in weakness, I would rejoice in my infirmities in order that the power of Christ might rest upon me.
"As it turned out, I had to get within one inch of the microphone just to croak the gospel. I was unable to use any inflection of voice to express my personality. It was just a croak in a monotone, and all the time we were crying to God that his power would be demonstrated in human weakness. Well, I can honestly say that there was a far greater response that night than any other night. I’ve been back to Australia ten times now, and on every occasion somebody has come up to me and said, "Do you remember that night when you lost your voice? I was converted that night."
God doesn’t need eloquence to reach people. He just needs a voice, your voice, with a living, vital connection to Him in prayer.
I like the way Luci Swindoll once put it. She writes: "A friend of mine was caught in an elevator during a power failure. At first, there was momentary panic as all seven strangers talked at once. Then my friend remembered the tiny flashlight he had in his pocket. When he turned it on, the fear dissipated. During the 45 minutes they were stuck together they told jokes, laughed, and even sang. [The Bible] says we are that flashlight. Just as the flashlight draws power from its batteries, we draw power from Jesus. As light, we dissipate fear, bring relief, and lift spirits. We don’t even have to be big to be effective. We just have to be ’on.’"
(Source: Student Leadership, Spring 1993, p. 32. Luci Swindoll, "Heart to Heart," Today’s Christian Woman. From a sermon by C. Philip Green, "The Power of His Presence" 7/10/2009)
For more from Chuck, visit http://www.insight.org
I remember listening to a sermon illustration given by the powerful proclaimer, Rev. Dr. A. W. Mays of Austin, Texas.
He told us of an incident that took place in his hometown of Austin concerning a streetlight. In Austin there was a high crime area, and the residents of the community petitioned the city of Austin to put up streetlights in this crime area. Dr. Mays stated that once the lights were up crime subsided for a while. But someone took a rock or something and knocked out the streetlights and crime in that area resumed. This took place over and over again until the city just gave up and left that particular area unlit to the chagrin of the petitioners and other residents of that community.
His point obviously was the fact that world hates light.
EUSEBIUS ON CHRISTIAN COMPASSION
The Christian conquest of the Roman Empire came not by the sword, but by the preaching of the gospel joined with acts of compassion.
In the middle of the 3rd century AD there was a terrible plague and many died. The pagans and doctors left the cities to avoid this disease. However, the Christians stayed behind and helped those who were ill and dying. Eusebius, a church historian, states that because of the Christians compassion in the midst of the plague, the Christians' "deeds were on everyone's lips, and they glorified the God of the Christians. Such actions convinced them that they alone were pious and truly reverent to God."
STEWARD OF THE LIGHT
In the nineteenth century, lighthouses on the U.S. coasts were tended by lighthouse keepers and their families. If a man who tended the light took ill or became disabled, often the work was picked up by his wife or children. Such was the case of Hosea Lewis.
Having become, in 1853, the keeper of the light on Lime Rock Island at Newport, Rhode Island, Lewis suffered a stroke four years later, at which time his teenage daughter Ida assumed responsibility for the light. Each day included cleaning the reflectors, trimming the wick, and filling the oil reservoir at sunset and midnight, along with providing for her father’s care.
With long and demanding tasks, Ida was unable to continue her schooling, but daily delivered her siblings to class, whatever the weather, by rowing the 500 yards to the mainland. In the mid-1800s, it was unusual to see a woman maneuvering a boat, but Ida became well-skilled and well-known for handling the heavy craft.
The teenager gained a measure of fame at age sixteen when she rescued four young men after their boat capsized. She rowed to their aid, hearing their screams as they clung to their overturned craft. On March 29, 1869, Ida saved two drowning servicemen from nearby Fort Adams. Public knowledge of Ida’s courage spread as far as Washington, inspiring President Ulysses S. Grant to visit Ida at Newport later that year. Ida rescued another two soldiers in 1881, for which she was awarded the U.S. Lifesaving Service’s highest medal.
In early February of that year the two soldiers were crossing from Newport to Lime Rock Island on foot when the ice gave way. Ida, the lighthouse keeper, came running with a rope. Ignoring peril to herself from weak and rotten ice, she pulled one, then the other to safety. All told, Ida Lewis persona...
ILL. Do you remember Bubba Smith? He retired from professional football a few years ago. Then, after he retired from playing football, Bubba Smith started making beer commercials. He was the guy who tore the top off of beer cans, & engaged in the argument about whether it is less filling or tastes great. You remember him now, don’t you?
In a magazine article about him, Bubba Smith said that he has never, ever drank beer. Drinking any kind of alcoholic beverage just isn’t a part of his life. But he advertised it & felt good about his job. It was an easy job. It was an enjoyable job, & it paid a good salary.
Until one day when he went back to Michigan State, his alma mater, as the Grand Marshal of the Homecoming Parade. As he was riding in the limousine at the head of the parade, he heard the throngs of people on both sides of the parade route shouting. And what were they shouting? "Hail to Michigan State?" No! One side was shouting, "Tastes great!" & the other side was shouting, "Less filling!"
Bubba Smith suddenly realized that he & the beer commercials that he made had had a tremendous impact on the students at Michigan State. And the message that they had gotten was that "It is all right to drink light beer."
Later, Bubba was in Ft. Lauderdale during Spring Break, & he saw drunken college kids up & down the beaches, shouting "Tastes great! Less filling!"
And when it came time to renew his contract, he refused to sign because he said that he didn’t want his life to count for something like that. He said that there was a still, small voice in his mind that kept saying, "Stop, Bubba. Stop."
You see, everybody’s life counts for something.
On Sept 16, 1620 2 ships set sail from Plymouth Englnad, The Speedwell and the Mayflower. The Speedwell encountered much difficulty as they began their journey springing many leaks in the ship. So when the 2 ships went to Port in Plymouth England, the Speedwell decided to go no further and 42 passengers from the Speedwell joined the 60 passengers and 30 crew members aboard the Mayflower..
Of the 102 passengers on board the Mayflower the majority were devout Christians. They were coming to America to shake lose from the bonds of the church of England so they could worship God as they believed scriptures taught.
And with great excitement and expectations that set sail for a new land... It wasn’t long before the trip became difficult for several reasons, as noted by William Bradford an historian on the Mayflower, who would later became Governor of the colony for 33 years.. Many of the passengers became sea sick as huge waves would crash over the deck of the ship... The nights were cold, damp and dark... Remember there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. And to make matters worse one of the crew, a very large man would constantly curse and abuse those who were sick... saying he was going to throw them overboard and steal all of their possessions... Bradford records, "BUT IT PLEASED GOD BEFORE THEY CAME HALF SEAS OVER, TO SMITE THE YOUNG MAN WITH A GRIEVOUS DISEASE OF WHICH HE DIED IN A DESPERATE MANNER.. AND SO HE HIMSELF WAS THE FIRST THROWN OVERBOARD. THUS HIS CURSES LIGHT OWN HIS WON HEAD, AND IT WAS AN ASTONISHMENT TO ALL HIS FELLOWS FOR THEY NOTED IT TO BE THE JUST HAND OF GOD UPON HIM.."
But their problems were far from over yet, they encountered many fierce storms which shook the ship with tremendous force. So fierce that many times they could not even keep the sail out and the force of the wind -- eventually cracked and bowed the main beams when they had just went over the half way point across the Atlantic. And although the passengers and crew wanted to turn back, Christopher Jones, the ships Master, assured all the vessel was "strong and firm under water." He ordered the beam to be secured. It was hoisted into place by a great iron screw that, fortunately, the Pilgrims brought out of Holland. AND Upon raising the beam, they "committed themselves to the will of God and resolved to proceed." These 100 people; cold, wet -- on wooden ship in the middle of the ocean -- put their hope, trust and lives into the hands of God. The battered ship finally came within sight of Cape Cod on November 19, 1620. Two had died at sea and two had given birth. The Pilgrims scanned the shoreline just to the west of them and described it as, "a goodly land wooded to the brink of the sea," William Bradford writes, "AFTER LONG BEATINGS AT SEA THEY FELL WITH THAT LAND WHICH IS CALLED CAPE COD; AND THEY WERE NOT A LITTLE JOYFUL..."
Before going ashore they decided to write a document know as the Mayflower Compact.
At the heart of the compact lay an undisputed conviction that God must be at the center of all law and order and the law without a moral base is really no law at all.
The day the Pilgrims signed the May Flower Compact, according to William Bradford, "they came to anchor in the Bay, which was a good harbor...and they blessed the God of Heaven, who brought them over the fast and furious ocean... and a sea of trouble. And they read the following from the Geneva Bible (the Bible the Pilgrims used) "LET THEM, THEREFORE PRAISE THE LORD, BECAUSE HE IS GOOD AND HIS MERCIES ENDURE FOREVER."
This coming thursday we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day... Many will be busy cooking turkeys, making stuffing, baking pumpkin pies.... and watching football games. And that is fun stuff -- it is important to get together with loved ones... But that is not what thanksgiving is really about -- it’s not about food and fun... it is about giving thanks to the Lord God Almighty.
We usually picture the first thanksgiving in America, as the time when the Pilgrims and the Indians got together for a great feast (though I really don’t know how they could of eaten pumpkin pie without cool whip). But I tend to look at that time when on the sea battered Mayflower anchored in the bay at Cape Cod, a group of weary and worn men and women were on their knees praising their God in heaven for bringing them safely through the treacherous sea to this new land, as the real first thanksgiving.