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Friday, August 29, 2011

Strasburg train (Photo by Nick Nichols)
Nick Nichols took this photo of the Strasburg railroad steam engine.

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

"The Peril Of Man-determined Morality"

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40).

Through our years of ministry we have had people with Down syndrome in our churches including the one we attend now. This past Sunday, after spotting me in the church foyer, Connie headed right in my direction and reached up toward my tall shoulders to give me her heartfelt hug. It seems that people with Down Syndrome are quite affectionate and like to greet family and friends with a bear hug of sorts.
We also have two neighbors we are quite fond of who have Down syndrome children.

Sandy w/ Ester (about 1996)
Sandy, who's now with the Lord, faithfully attended our church in Massachusetts. (The photo to the right shows Sandy with Ester nearly 20 years ago.) The minister that I followed had pastored the church for 22 years and Sandy was very close to him. There was a concern by some that his retirement might bring about some anxiety or even anger on her part. However Sandy quickly accepted me as her pastor and she certainly provided some colorful moments during our eight years of service in that New England church.

People often affirm a preacher's words with an "Amen" and, of course, we preachers like that. On those occasions when I got a round of amens or said something that made the congregation laugh out loud, Sandy
would turn around and look at others in the congregation. Then she'd smile real big, point to me in the pulpit and said rather loudly (or maybe I should say, "rather proudly"), "That my pator. I just lub (love) my pator".

One Saturday morning Sandy joined the ladies in a women's fellowship at the church and suddenly they realized that she was missing. They frantically looked for her with no success and then Brooksyne got to thinking she might have gone looking for her pastor. Sure enough, she went next door to the parsonage and there was Sandy pounding on the front door and looking intermittently through the window for her pastor. She was very disappointed to learn that he was out of town and could not greet her.

Sandy's niece and husband lovingly cared for her many years after her mother was no longer able to do so. Every Sunday morning Sandy would rise at the crack of dawn, get dressed in her Sunday best, Bible in hand. The longer she waited for her niece to get up the more frustrated she got, certain that she was going to be late for church (hours before it was even time to go)!

Many will testify that people like Sandy provide a somewhat unexplainable richness to life.*

One of my favorite contemporary commentators is Gary Bauer. I receive a daily email
called the "End Of Day Report" with his observations on current issues. I quote here from a statement he made in Monday's edition:

"There was so much death in the headlines last week that I didn't have time to comment on the rantings of another death advocate. He's not one of the boys from Hamas, ISIS or Islamic Jihad, but the noted biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins. He's become popular among the cultural and political left for mocking those who believe in God.

Having decided long ago that there is no God, Dawkins decided to apply for the position himself, creating his own morality in the process. But since there is no right or wrong, how he goes about creating his own version of morality is a mystery.

Here is his latest decree: According to Dawkins it would be "immoral" if a mother knowingly gave birth to a child with Down syndrome.

In taking this position, Dawkins puts himself on the same moral level as the barbarians of ISIS, who also claim the right to decide who lives and who dies. Unfortunately, because he lives in the heart of the West and has all the appropriate degrees from prestigious universities, his barbarism comes dressed up and might even seem compassionate to some warped minds.

The pagan Romans were known for their barbaric cruelty to the disabled. Babies born with physical defects were often abandoned and left to die from exposure to the elements. For all his education, Dawkins has arrived at the same place.

But make no mistake about it. Dawkins represents an evil philosophy that has shown itself throughout history. From the ovens of Auschwitz to the deserts of the Middle East, the world has been plagued by men who believed that some people had no rights they were bound to respect. ISIS says, "Kill the infidel." Dawkins says, "Kill those who don't measure up to my standard of a life worth living."

As the thinking of men like Dawkins continues to take root in Judeo-Christian civilization, it will be more difficult to muster the moral courage necessary to defeat the other death worshipers who are marauding across the Middle East and parts of Africa. The cheapening of life makes it easier to look away, while saying, 'We should mind our own business'."

The Bible teaches that one of the truest evidences of an authentic follower of Jesus Christ is our attitude and our response toward those whom Jesus called "the least of these." One of the last lessons He taught before His death was on this subject. In Matthew 25:32ff He uses representative examples of those who might be referred to as losers, the unlovely, the damaged in society, etc.

Our approach toward the "least of these" according to Jesus is proof of our true discipleship. In this parable the way we deal with the "least of these" determines whether we are a sheep or a goat. Each will experience a different eternal outcome.

I am heartened by examples of grace demonstrated to the least of these. All over the world today both institutionally and individually true followers of Christ are actively demonstrating compassion to a hurting, broken and sin-filled world. Some will give up their own life’s ambitions and resources to help others find meaning and purpose in life.  Consider the medical doctor who has spent much of his career, risking his own health, working at a mission hospital deep in Africa where he treats a huge population of Ebola.

In our own little world we have seen it often; those who give their time and energy to protect the unborn by reaching out to those in a crisis pregnancy; those who expand their family to welcome displaced, abused or orphaned children; those who regularly visit the prisons bringing the hope of the gospel to inmates who might otherwise perish in hell; the street preacher who faithfully proclaims the Scriptures in the public square to mostly scoffing, uninterested passersby; compassionate people who embrace and lovingly engage the mentally and/or physically handicapped, dedicated workers who risk their lives to deliver Bibles to closed countries where believers are desperately desiring a copy of the inspired Word of God.  And, of course, there are so many who cannot go or do but give abundantly of their finances to support those who can. This is only a partial list of so many examples we could write about today.

The needs are vast and always will be until we’re called home. The opportunities are unending and wide-ranging so that when we respond to God’s leading He utilizes our giftings, our skills, our knowledge, our training and experiences in life. He equips us for that which He calls us to do.

Today, let us ask ourselves, when we come into contact with people regarded by the world as the "least of these", "How does God want me to reach out to those the world considers the least in human value?"

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily prayer:
Loving Father, we don’t want to turn the other way when You bring into our view the hurting and neglected people of the world. When we see the hungry or thirsty, the stranger in need of clothing, the sick and frail, those imprisoned, and the countless other oppressing needs among us Your loving compassion compels us to reach out in whatever way we can to be an extension of Your kingdom. For we know that when we do it for those considered the least on earth we not only empower and bless them but we also obey and please You. May the “evidence of the grace of God” be visible in our attitudes and in our actions as we respond to the opportunities You give us everyday. In the name of Jesus we pray.

Theological note: From the perspective of our desperate need and God's amazing grace we are all in the "least of these" category. But I also consider the intellectual arrogance of people like Dawkins and their regard for people like Sandy. A powerful Scripture verse comes to mind: "This is what the Lord says: 'Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 9:23,24).

Another Note: Observing readers may note that the message title did not necessarily match the Bible verse and exposition. The study of "man-determined morality" is certainly something to study but will have to wait another day. However it is an infection wreaking havoc on a society; rejecting God, His Word and standards. Just consider the redefinition of marriage in our own age. Mankind raises a defiant fist to God declaring "I'll do it my way". But God will not be mocked and mankind will reap what is sown. (Galatians 6:7-9)

Gary Bauer makes a powerful point in this phrase concerning Dawkins, "Unfortunately, because he lives in the heart of the West and has all the appropriate degrees from prestigious universities, his barbarism comes dressed up and might even seem compassionate to some warped minds." I consider the deadly lure for many of academic prestige and acceptance and consider this Bible verse, "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22).

A very personal note: Today’s message also brings back a memory from about 23 years ago. Ester came to us in 1989 with a severe heart condition and immediately required surgeries and intensive medical care and months of hospitalization. In 1991 we made our first visit to Guatemala and stayed with a prosperous family in that area who generously hosted us during our four day visit. Ester was 18 months old at the time and stayed with a family in our church back in Northern Pennsylvania. It gave us an opportunity to explore her birthplace and pursue our future adoption with the officials there. During a conversation with our host,
an MIT educated leader in the country who knew of Ester's health matters, he discouraged us from adopting due to her health problems and also because of her ethnicity (Mayan Indian descent which was looked down upon by his ethnic background). I still recall his words, “You don't want to adopt her. We can get you a good one.” I suppose he meant well and perhaps made his suggestion in our interest, but it did reflect a devaluing of life, both her ethnicity and fragile health.

A Reader's Note: Yesterday we shared an illustration concerning morning glories and Jim, a friend from New Braunfels Texas, made this observation:
"If you desire, you can reverse the story and look at the negative side. The Morning Glory can be compared to the "Little Sins". One "Little Sin" doesn't seem harmful, and we put it out-of-mind. However, like the Morning Glory, it sends out roots in every direction. Soon, more "Little Sins" begin to show up, and before long they can overwhelm. It takes more than a bit of "weeding" to get rid of them. They have to be destroyed with a powerful "agent". That "Agent" is the Blood of Christ."

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"To the Least of These"  Video  Matt Papa

* Even some in the secular left take issue with their revered Dawkins on this matter. See this opinion piece from the New York Times. I especially cite this article for those who may wonder if Dawkins really made this outrageous statement (see first paragraph).

"End Of Day" report archives are here.

Today's photo is from our friend Nick Nichols collection of Strasburg, PA. Brooksyne, Ester, my brother, Michael, and I are going over that way this evening to watch "Moses" at the Sight and Sound Theater. Yesterday we were blessed with four complimentary tickets! We hope to also stop by to see our Amish friends in that area and check out their harvest.

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"For God has chosen
the weak things in the world,
the foolish,
the nothings.
That no flesh will glory
in His presence."
1 Corinthians 1:27-29

"Living securely today  anchored in God's solid foundation"