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So if the kingdom of heaven is so valuable, why doesn’t everybody do everything they can to be a part of it? I think it’s because value is often in the eye of the beholder. What has value and what doesn’t is really up to personal interpretation. What some people think are valuable have no value at all to others. Several years ago I used to heat our house with wood. Every fall I would go out and cut wood with my friend Roger Raether and Bob Bosma. I never liked cutting wood because it was a lot of back breaking work but I liked the price. It was free except for the labor so we would take a Saturday here and there in the fall to cut wood and pile it up for the winter. In addition to cutting wood I used to get the wood scraps from a store called “The Wooden Bird.” They make beautiful hand carved bird decoys and animal decoys out of wood. Every decoy costs from 50 to 250 bucks and they are really nice decorative pieces to put on the mantle. Their shop used to be right here in St. Boni so every couple of weeks I would stop in and pick up their leftover wood scraps to burn in my wood burner. Right before Thanksgiving I stopped in to pick up a load of scraps. I walked in the front door and told them I was there to pick up the wood. The man wheeled out two bins like usual to the loading doors and helped me load them in the truck. Usually the wood was just chunks of pine but this time they looked like decoys. I asked him if he was sure that he was giving me the right wood because they were unpainted decoys. I noticed that they had a few cracks in them so I figured they were throwing them away because of the cracks. The man insisted that I had the right stuff and waved me goodbye. I took my load of wood and promised that I would bring his carts back as soon as I got the chance. He told me there was no hurry and I could even bring them back after Thanksgiving. I went home and unloaded the decoys in a big pile in the basement. The wood burner was low so I grabbed a handful of decoys and threw them in the furnace. That dry pine burned nice and hot so I threw in a few more to ward of the cold. Then I went back to work. After work I went home and reloaded the furnace with decoys and had just enough time to bring back the carts before they closed for the long weekend. When I pulled up in my truck two men ran out of the building and demanded that I bring back the decoys. I asked why and with urgency in his voice he told me that I had taken their entire inventory of Christmas decoys worth tens of thousands of dollars by mistake. He went on and on about calling the police and trying to find my vehicle and driving around for the past three hours in a complete panic because I had taken their entire Christmas inventory of decoys worth thousands of dollars by mistake. I pointed at the guy who gave them to me and he just gave me the deer in the headlights look and walked back into the building. Then the manager said do you still have them because they are incredibly valuable. Each decoy had taken them over a week to make and they needed to get them back. Rather stunned I told them that I had burned a few of them but would bring the rest back. Then I went home and carefully loaded a few hundred decoys back into the bins and brought them back to the Wooden Bird. Value is often in the eye of the beholder. The decoys had no value to me other than a little heat. But to the Wooden bird, the decoys were worth tens of thousands of dollars.

 
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JOY AND PRAYER IN SUFFERING

The fact that God chooses to love the unworthy should move us to loud praise frequently.

Margaret Sangster Phippen wrote that in the mid-1950’s her father, British minister W.E. Sangster, began to notice some uneasiness in his throat and a dragging in his leg. When he went to the doctor, he found that he had an incurable disease that cased progressive muscular atrophy. His muscles would gradually waste away, his voice would fail, and his throat would soon become unable to swallow.

Sangster threw himself into his work in the British home missions, figuring he could still write and he would have even more time for prayer. "Let me stay in the struggle Lord," he pleaded. "I don’t mind if I can no longer be a general, but give me just a regiment to lead." He wrote articles and books, and helped organize prayer cells throughout England. "I’m only in the kindergarten of suffering," he told people who pitied him. Gradually Sangsters’s legs became useless. His voice went completely. But he could still hold a pen, shakily.

On Easter morning, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter. In it, he said, "It is terrible to wake up on Easter morning and have no voice to shout, "He is risen!" -- but it would be still more terrible to have a voice and not want to shout."

(From a sermon by David Scudder, The Four Hallelujah’s, 10/25/2009)

 
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WARFIELD'S FAITHFULNESS

There’s an old story about Dr. Benjamin Warfield. He was a theology professor at Princeton Seminary. While he was still at the height of his academic powers, his wife got sick. And she became an invalid. He took care of her for ten years. During that ten year period, he never spent more than 2 hours away from his wife. Even though she was handicapped, she still loved to read. And so Dr. Warfield would sit at her bedside day after day. And read to her. He was always gentle and caring with her.

One day, someone asked him, "Have you ever thought about taking your wife to an institution?" Then you could write bigger books and have a bigger ministry." But Dr. Warfield said, "No way. My wife is my ministry. I will never leave her side. I am going to love her and take care of her as long as God grants us life."

That’s how the Lord Jesus feels about us. He will not walk away from us. He will not abandon us. He will not throw us away like yesterday’s news.. He will minister his love and his compassion to us just as Dr. Warfield did for his wife.

(From a sermon by Marc Axelrod, Justice and Compassion For All, 8/16/2010)

 
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THE CHRISTMAS STORM: A Modern Parable by Paul Harvey

"This is about a modern man, one of us, he was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man, generous to his family, upright in his dealings with others. But he did not believe in all that incarnation stuff that the Churches proclaim at Christmas time. It just didn’t make sense to him and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just could not swallow the Jesus story about God coming to earth as man. I’m truly sorry to distress you, he told his wife, but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve. He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he would much rather stay home, but that he would wait up for them. He stayed, they went. Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier, then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another and another. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. Well, when he went to the front door, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter they had tried to fly through his large landscape window. Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze. He remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter -- if he could direct the birds to it. He quickly put on his coat and galoshes, trampled through the deepening snow to the barn, opened the door wide, and turned on a light. But the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in and he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow making a trail to the yellow lighted wide open doorway of the stable, but to his dismay the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them, he tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms -- instead they scattered in every direction except into the warm lighted barn. Then he realized they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature, if only I could think of some way to let them know they can trust me. That I’m not trying to hurt them, bu...

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EATING A BALD EAGLE

A forest ranger is making rounds in a remote part of the wooded reserve when he comes across an unkempt man, sitting at a make-shift campfire, and, to the ranger's astonishment, eating a fish and a bald eagle.

The man is consequently put in jail for the crime. He was soon brought to trial for his crime. The Judge asked the man, "Do you know that eating a bald eagle is a federal offense?"

"Yes, I do, Judge," replied the man, "but if you will let me argue my case, I'll explain what happened."

"You may proceed."

"I got lost in the woods and hadn't had anything real to eat for two weeks," the man explained. "I was so hungry, I was eating plants to stay alive. Next thing I see is a Bald Eagle swooping down at the lake grabbing a fish. I thought 'If I startled the eagle, I could maybe steal the fish.' Low and behold, the eagle lighted upon a nearby tree stump to eat the fish. I threw a stone toward the eagle hoping he would drop the fish and fly away. Unfortunately, in my weakened condition, my aim was off, and the rock hit the eagle squarely on his poor little head, and it killed him. I thought long and hard about what had happened, but figured that since I had killed it, I might as well eat it, since it would be more disgraceful to let it rot on the ground."

The Judge says he would take a recess to analyze the defendant's testimony. Fifteen minutes goes by, and the Judge returns.

"Due to the extreme circumstances you were under and because you didn't intend to kill the eagle, the court will dismiss the charges." The Judge then leans over the bench and whispers: "If you don't mind my asking, what does a bald eagle taste like?"

"Well, Your Honor, it is hard to explain. I guess the best comparison I can make is, it's a bit more tender than a California Condor, but lacks the tang of a Spotted Owl."

(From a sermon by J.D. Tutell, He Prepares a Table, 2/3/2011)

 
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Lynn Malone
 
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Reinhold Niebuhr, a famous American Protestant theologian in the 20th century, served as both a working pastor in Detroit and a respected professor at Yale University. He told the story of a flatland farm boy who, all his young life, dreamed of being a sailor on a tall-masted sailing ship. He slipped away from home, made his way to a port city, and enlisted as an apprentice sailor. The third day out to sea, the captain commanded that he assume the watch in the crow’s nest. The boy climbed halfway up the mast and then froze, going neither up nor down. He took an option that was not an option. He feared the ridicule of the seasoned sailors on the deck beneath him, so he would not go down. He feared the heights above him, so he would not go up. He froze between the options and took neither. He is the very illustration of the one-bag servant. The servant neither risked the money nor threw it away. He simply kept it and did nothing with it.

 
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The story is told of a wonderful, elderly, christian lady. She had very little money and lived in a rundown house, but she was always praising the Lord. Her only problem was with the old man who lived next door. He was always trying to prove to her that there was no God. One day, as the old man was walking by her house, he noticed the woman through an open window. She was kneeling down in prayer, so he crept over to the window to see if he could hear. She was praying, " Lord, you’ve always given me what I’ve needed." She prayed. "And now you know that I don’t have any money, and I’m completely out of groceries, and I won’t get another check for a week." She continued, "somehow, Lord, can you get me some groceries." The man had heard all he needed. He crept away from the window and ran down to the grocery store. He bought milk, bread, and lunchmeat. He ran back to the woman’s house carrying the groceries. He set the bag down on by her door, rang the doorbell, and hid beside of the house. You can
imagine how the woman reacted to seeing the bag of groceries. She threw her hands over head and began praising the Lord. "Thank you Jesus," she shouted. "I was without food and you provided the groceries." About that time the old man jumped out and said, "I’ve got you now." She was too busy shouting thank yous to Jesus to pay any attention. "I told you there was no God," the old man said, " it wasn’t Jesus who gave you those groceries it was me." "Oh no," the woman said. "Jesus got me these goroceries and made the devil pay for them." She had the right attitude for God.

 
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On April 28, 1999, just eight days after the Columbine shooting, shock rock singer Marilyn Manson was scheduled to perform a concert in Iowa City, Iowa. And since Manson’s music
was prominent in the lives of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, there was a lot of emotion surrounding his concert. Mark Forstrom, a local Youth Minister in the area wrote about what happened.

He wrote, "The police, the media, and the community began to prepare for angry protests and ugly brawling between Christians and Marilyn Manson supporters."

Suddenly, something totally unexpected happened. Emerging thru the vehicle of e-mail, another local movement suddenly sprang to life— that the only way to truly change our moral climate is to soften hard hearts. (The hearts of Manson fans have been hardened by
their perception that Christians are mean-spirited, hateful, and judgmental.) Thus, the idea was birthed to unravel that stereotype by encouraging Christians to show the pure LOVE of Christ to these fans in tangible ways.

Concert day finally arrived, and tension filled the community. The media geared up for an ugly battle between Manson fans and the Christian opposition.

Instead, what they observed here was an amazing testament to the power of and love of Christ! Scores of Christians from churches all over Linn County and as far away as Des Moines (2 hours away) converged on the sidewalks outside the Five Seasons Center, to do
two POSITIVE things: pray, and to show unmistakable love. It was a sight to behold.
~ Groups conducted "prayer walks" around the arena.
~ People prayed in huddles on the sidewalk.
~ Churches around the city held special prayer eetings.

As for showing LOVE to the fans,

~ One church purchased 100 pizzas, which were freely given away to the fans in line and bystanders.
~ Cookies and over 1,200 cans of soda were purchased or donated and distributed.
~ Someone made turkey & cheese sandwiches and gave them away.
~ One pastor asked Manson fans who passed by how he could pray for them--about 20 shared specific things & were prayed for on the spot.
~ After the concert, about $200 in cash (collected mostly by a local youth group) was given out to pay for parking in the parking ramp.

The Christians involved said, "We’re Christians and we’d like to show you God’s love by paying for your parking tonight." The
immediate results of this love in action were phenomenal:

~ People continually asked, "Why are you doing this?" and then listened to the answer. ~ Two "live" radio reporters (one inside the stadium and one outside) discussed--on the air--how preferable it was to be outside with the generous Christians.
~ At least 3 people gave their lives to Christ through the loving care of the Christians.
~ At least one other fan that we know of chose...

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Rob Short
 
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In 1994, two Christian missionaries answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics in a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage.

It was nearing Christmas and they decided to tell them the story of Christmas. It would be the first time these children had heard the story of the birth of Christ. They told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

When the story was finished, they gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins that they had brought with them since no coloured paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt which the missionaries had also brought with them.

It was all going smoothly until one of the missionaries sat down at a table to help a 6 year old boy named Misha. He had finished his manger. When the missionary looked at the little boy’s manger, she was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, she called for the translator to ask Misha why there were two babies in the manger.

Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, Misha began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately until he came to the part where Mary put the baby
Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending. He said, "And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.

"But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, 'If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift' And Jesus told me, 'If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.'

"So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him--for always."

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.

The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him--FOR ALWAYS.

 
Contributed By:
David  Yarbrough
 
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The royal palace in Tehran, Iran has one of the most beautiful entrances of all palaces in the world today. As one enters the royal palace the doomed ceilings, sidewalls, and columns seemed to be covered with diamonds. When the Royal Palace was planned, the architects sent an order to Paris for mirrors to cover the entrance walls. The mirrors finally arrived in their crates. When they took the crates apart, all the broken pieces fell out. They were all smashed while being transported. They were going to throw them all away when one of the men had an idea to see how the broken pieces would look if they fitted them together. The result is an enormous distortion in reflections, and it sparkles with diamond like rainbow colors.
Broken to be more beautiful!

That is exactly what God can do with the broken pieces of our lives if we will just turn it over to Him.

 
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