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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.
Lewis Smedes, professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary was asked this very question about suicide in the July 2000 issue of Christianity Today. He summarized his thoughts by writing,
"I believe that, as Christians, we should worry less about whether Christians who have killed themselves go to heaven, and worry more about how we can help people like them find hope and joy in living. Our most urgent problem is not the morality of suicide but the spiritual and mental despair that drags people down to it. Loved ones who have died at their own hands we can safely trust to our gracious God. Loved ones whose spirits are even now slipping so silently toward death, these are our burden."
A. Todd Coget
When you work around the church a while it comes quite naturally, the laughter of cynical disbelief.
In 1986 the United Methodist General Conference, on the last day of two weeks of meetings, passed a resolution that said we were going to make 9 million new United Methodists by about 1994--this in a denomination that had been losing about 65,000 members every year since the early seventies.
Nine million new United Methodists!
Well, I laughed.
I thought, Isn’t this typical!
We don’t want to do the systemic changes in our church that would enable us to reach out and get new people.
This is just window dressing, sloganeering, platitudes.
We aren’t serious about it; it’s just more guilt to lay on pastors’ backs!
I went home and wrote an article, "My Dog the Methodist."
In it I argued that there was no way in heaven we were going to make 9 million new Methodists unless we started baptizing dogs.
And I offered as a fit recipient for the sacrament of baptism my mixed-breed terrier sleeping in my garage.
I said, "This dog, as far as I know, has shown no interest in biblical studies. Therefore, it would make a perfect Methodist."
I also said, "This dog has the sexual ethics of some members of my former congregations."
When the article came out in The Christian Century, not everybody laughed.
The magazine lost about four subscriptions, and two Methodist bishops have not spoken to me since.
But I was serious.
The cynicism behind that move!
We don’t intend to really change the way we would have to change to be that kind of church.
[Laughing at the Church, Citation: "Evangelical Laughter," Preaching Today, Tape No. 137.]
In 1994 two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on Biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments, and a large orphanage.
It was nearing the holiday season for the orphans to hear for the first time the traditional Christmas story. They told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where Jesus was born and placed in the manger.
Throughout the story, the children, according to one of the Americans, “sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.”
As a follow-up activity to the story, each child was given three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manager. Each child was also given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins which the children tore into strips the paper and carefully laid them in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel from a thrown away nightgown were used for the baby’s blanket. From pieces of tan felt a doll-like baby was made.
As they made their way around the room to observe the children this is what one of the Americans noted, “All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project.
As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see, not one but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.”
The observer goes on to note that Misha very accurately recalled the story that had been told until he came to the part where Mary put Jesus in the manger. “Then Misha,” it is noted, “started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as 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 momma 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 t...
"It is an accepted law of ethics that punishment in the Court of Conscience, unlike that in Courts of Law, lessens with each repeated and unrebuked offense."
Ethics stays in the prefaces of the average business science book.
The real problem is in the hearts and minds of men. It is not a problem of physics but of ethics. It is easier to denature plutonium than to denature the evil from the spirit of man.
A wealthy businessman, who was well known for being ruthless and unethical, told Mark Twain that before he died, he wanted to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He said that when he got there he wanted to climb to the top of Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments, and there read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top. “I have a better idea,” replied Twain, in his typical wit, “You could stay in Boston and keep them.”
I believe that Jesus would have preferred that he stay in Boston and keep the commandments as well. But we always prefer some great religious experience to the routine of obedience. We would like some mountaintop emotion rather than actually showing the evidence of a changed li...
"Relativity applies to physics, not ethics."
All the religion we have is the ethics of one or another holy person.