The Magnitude of God’s Love

It would be spectacular and amazing … if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be a profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent.

And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more he befriends us, the more he cleanses us, relieving us of all our misery and of the burden of all our sins and placing them upon his own back.

Whenever the devil declares: “You are a sinner!” Christ interposes: “I will reverse the order; I will be a sinner, and you are to go scotfree.” Who can thank our God enough for this mercy?   —Martin Luther, Luther’s Works 22, 166-167

person spreading hands against sun

Easter

Dr. Gordon one Easter brought an old beat-up rusty bird cage and sat it next to the pulpit.  As he gave his sermon that Easter morning, he held up the cage and said, “You might be wondering why this is here.  As a matter of fact, that’s not the normal part of an Easter service, having a bird cage here.”

He said, “Let me tell you the story of it.  Several days ago I was noticing a little boy….whistling, walking down an alley, swinging this bird cage.  Clinging to the bottom of the cage were little field sparrows he had caught.  So I stopped him and asked, ‘Say, what do you have there?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got some birds.’  ‘What are you gonna do with ’em?’ I asked. ‘Oh, mess around with ‘me, tease ’em, something like that.’  ‘Well,’ I asked, ‘when you get tired of ’em, what are you gonna do?’  He thought a moment and said, ‘Well, I’ve got a couple of cats at home, and they like birds.  I think I’ll just let them have at ’em.’

Dr. Gordon said his heart went out to the little birds so he made the little lad an offer. “How much do you want for the birds?”  Surprised, the boy said, “Mister, these birds ain’t no good.”

“Well,” Dr. Gordon said, “regardless, how much would you like for ’em?”

The little fellow said, “How about two bucks?”

He said, “Sold.” So he reached in his pocket and peeled off two dollar bills.  The little boy shoved the bird cage forward, pleased with his stroke of good fortune.  When the boy left, the pastor walked a good distance away, lifted open the little cage door and said, “Shoo, shoo,” and he shoved them out of the door and they flew free.

The empty bird cage was the perfect illustration of how Satan had the human race trapped and frightened.  Jesus Christ not only paid the price for our freedom; He has set us free.

animal avian beak biology

 

— from Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations

 

The Power of Weakness

State Pension Crisis Dominates Political Agenda

In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie ten Boom describes traveling to Russia during the Cold War — when Christians were being persecuted — to thank an old woman who’d been secretly translating Christian books (including ten Boom’s). Ravaged by multiple sclerosis, the woman could move only an index finger. Yet with it she typed constantly, translating words while praying for people who’d eventually read them.

Ten Boom’s reaction was, “Oh Lord, why don’t you heal her?” But the woman’s husband said God had a purpose in his wife’s suffering. Although the secret police closely watched other Christians, they left this woman alone, assuming she couldn’t accomplish anything.

Jesus works through our weaknesses, making his power perfect in them. He doesn’t ask if we’re capable — only if we’re willing.

 

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Raise the Standard

In A Book of Saints, Anne Gordon tells the story of Father Maximilian Kolbe, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz in August 1941. A prisoner escaped from the camp, and in reprisal, the Nazis ordered that ten prisoners had to die by starvation.

Father Kolbe offered to take the place of one of the condemned men. The Nazis kept Kolbe in the starvation bunker for two weeks and then put him to death by lethal injection on August 14, 1941.

Thirty years later, a survivor of Auschwitz described the effect of Kolbe’s action: “It was an enormous shock to the whole camp. We became aware that someone among us in the spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it.
“To say that Father Kolbe died for us or for that person’s family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands …We were stunned by his act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp.”  — Bill Norman

selective focus photography of spark

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

 

To God You Shall Return

The traditional Ash Wednesday words “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” might seem depressing. But in our often death-denying culture, some might find it refreshing to hear the frank statement that we can do nothing to save ourselves, physically or spiritually — that, no matter how we try to avoid sin, we can’t untangle ourselves from self-interest. How liberating, then, to know we don’t have to! God loves us as we are and sent Jesus to break sin’s power over us.

backlit cemetery christianity clouds

A pastor described Ash Wednesday as the point you can pinch in the middle of a long piece of ribbon, such that when you lift it high, the two ends — one symbolizing our baptism and the other, our funeral — meet and touch. We come from dust and will return to dust, but we also come from God and will return to God. Ash Wednesday reminds us that we’re always safe in God’s love.

The Teddy Bear Lady

Most of the people at Chicago’s Children’s Hospital did not know her name. They just knew her as the sweet elderly lady in the vivid red suit who wanted to make sure that every sick child had a teddy bear to hug and caress. She kept bringing the stuffed animals, purchased with her own money, to give to ailing children. That is why she was simply called The Teddy Bear Lady.

teddy

Her name was Gladys Holm, a retired secretary for an insurance company, who lived alone in a tiny apartment in Evanston. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford better, although no one except her attorney and stockbroker knew she was quite wealthy.
When she died at age 86, she had a portfolio worth over $18 million. She had never married and had no heirs. Her will simply directed that the bulk of her estate be given to The Children’s Memorial Hospital. Her gift was to go to medical research so that new methods of treating sick or disabled children might be developed.
The hospital authorities were absolutely shocked by the news. No one had the slightest idea that the tall happy woman delivering teddy bears to ailing children had such wealth. As they began to piece together more of her life’s story, they discovered something else. They learned that the gifts of teddy bears were really a ruse. She gave away teddy bears to learn more about the financial resources of the families of the children. When she learned that parents did not have hospitalization or enough to cover medical expenses, she very quietly had taken care of their bills.
One wonders if Gladys Holm was simply putting into practice what the One known as the Great Physician had recommended: “When you give … sound no trumpet before you …. When you give … do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret …” (Matthew 6:2-4).
At the hospital’s memorial service for Gladys, someone had put a teddy bear on every chair.