THE RECORDS COMMITTEE

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” [Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)]

blue flag irisDozens of birders have been gathering at the local bird sanctuary to catch a glimpse of a Hammond’s flycatcher. Since these birds look similar to other flycatchers, prefer the mountains to lowlands, and are rarely found within 1,000 miles of Florida, the bird in question could be an imposter. It’s just another little grey bird to me but, to birders, its identification is important. Although they’ll report their sightings to the Florida Ornithological Society, just looking like a Hammond’s isn’t enough. When the Society’s Records Committee meets in August, they will evaluate the submitted sketches, photographs, videos, recordings and detailed accounts of the bird’s behavior along with reports of the surroundings, sky conditions, temperature, and times when the bird was spotted to determine whether it truly is a Hammond’s.

While the FOS Records Committee will be looking for evidence to authenticate whether the bird in question is a true Hammond’s, there is no official committee to authenticate Christians. If a Records Committee were to determine whether or not we’re true followers of Christ, calling ourselves Christian, sitting in a pew on Sundays, and occasionally reading the Bible wouldn’t be enough evidence. After all, I could put on a lab coat, sit in the hospital, regularly consult WebMD, and call myself “Doctor” but I wouldn’t be a physician! The Records Committee for Christ would look for the traits of a Christian described throughout the Gospel and Epistles. They’d start with love and then look for evidence of things like obedience, service, forgiveness, selflessness, humility, faithfulness, truth, compassion, joy, peace, restraint, gentleness, patience, kindness, devotion, and virtue. These, like nesting in high conifers and catching insects on the fly, are the behaviors that would be used to identify a true Christian from an imposter. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them,” [Matthew 7:20] and it would be by our fruit that a Records Committee would know us.

The Hammond’s flycatcher is named in honor of William Alexander Hammond, an enthusiastic birder who was the Surgeon General of the US Army (1862-1864). Of course, that grey bird doesn’t care if it’s called a Hammond’s or even a flycatcher; it knows who and what he is. I’m not so sure we’re that honest with ourselves! Do we truly know who and what we are? Would anybody else? Our name is in honor of Jesus; “Christian” means “follower of Christ” or “miniature replication of Christ.” Do our thoughts, actions and speech look anything like His? It will be Jesus rather than a Records Committee who makes that final determination. Will He recognize us?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. [Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV)]

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POINTING

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’” [John 1:29-30 (NLT)]

red-shouldered hawkA red-shouldered hawk soared through the sky, swooped down, and settled in a tree just a few feet from us. After getting a photo, I walked back to a man we’d passed earlier on the boardwalk. His tripod and huge lens told me he was hoping to get some good shots and I let him know a Kodak moment was waiting on the side trail. He followed me back and my husband pointed out the impressive bird perched above him.

Later, we came upon one of the sanctuary’s naturalists who admitted she’d been waiting for someone to come along so she could point out a limpkin. With its dark brown body and white speckles, the bird blended into the underbrush and we never would have seen him without her direction. Then, opening a small jar of pond water she’d collected, she pointed out two dragonfly nymphs swimming around. Walking on, my husband pointed out an anhinga high in the trees and I returned the favor when I spotted a black-crowned night heron across the lake. Seeing the naturalist coming toward us, I waited so I could show her the easily missed bird.

When people come to the bird sanctuary, they come to see the swamp’s flora and fauna. But, if they don’t know where to look, it’s easy to miss the things that make the walk worthwhile. The naturalists often leave signs indicating points of interest and, when the ghost orchid is blooming, they leave a scope focused on the rare flower. Bird lovers share their findings on various bird websites and last week, after such a posting, dozens of birders turned up hoping to catch a glimpse a Hammond’s flycatcher.

John the Baptist was surrounded by a crowd of people who’d come to be baptized and hear him preach. Can you imagine what it was like when John saw Jesus and, pointing to the Lord, identified Him as the Lamb of God? Did all the heads turn and look? John’s job was to prepare the way and point the people to Jesus, the promised Messiah, and he did his job well.

While I’m happy to point out hawks, herons, swamp lilies, alligators and scarlet hibiscus to visitors at the bird sanctuary, I have another more important job that is shared with every Christian. Just as John pointed to the living Christ, we are to point to the risen Christ! But, I’m not sure pointing is enough. Had we just pointed in the hawk’s direction, the photographer might have ignored us and, if the naturalist had merely pointed toward the limpkin, we wouldn’t have seen it. It was only when she told us what to look for and described his location that we saw the bird. It seemed like her jar was filled only with murky swamp water until she showed us the nymphs and explained what they were.

When people come to the bird sanctuary, just knowing there are wood storks, herons, painted buntings, and old growth cypress isn’t the same as being shown those things. With our words, we can point people to Scripture, the church, and Jesus. Better than that, however, is showing people how the words of Scripture apply, what the church means, and how Jesus’ followers live a life of peace, joy, patience, forgiveness, love, compassion and service. It is by living the way we say we believe, by loving and serving, by praying both for and with someone, by seeking and interacting with the lost, by sharing our stories, and by listening to theirs that we truly show people the Lamb of God.

Birders are so enthusiastic that they share their sightings with everyone. Are we that enthusiastic about Christ? Like John, are we witnesses to His light? Do we show the Way?

If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did. [1 John 2:4-6 (NLT)]

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TRADING PLACES

My heart is filled with bitter sorrow and unending grief for my people, my Jewish brothers and sisters. I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ!—if that would save them. [Romans 9:2-3 (NLT)]

little blue heron (juvenile) - great blue heronBereft that the people of Israel had rejected Jesus, Paul’s words are some of the saddest ones found in the epistles. I can see the tears in his eyes and hear the anguish in his voice as he dictated them to Tertius, his scribe. Young’s Literal Translation translates Paul’s words as having “great grief and unceasing pain in my heart.” Although he knows that nothing could cut him off from Christ, Paul says he’d be willing to sacrifice himself for his people if it were possible. That’s not just his life he’s offering; the word he used was anathema, meaning he was willing give up his salvation. If it would save the people of Israel, he would be delivered over to the wrath of God for eternal destruction: to spend an eternity in Hell!

While Paul probably was the greatest of Christian evangelists, we mustn’t forget that first and foremost, he was a Jew. A Pharisee who’d studied under the best teachers, he was from the tribe of Benjamin. Describing himself as “a real Hebrew if there ever was one,” all of his family and friends were Jews. He was one of God’s chosen people to whom the Messiah had been promised. Although Jesus came to the Jews first, Paul wondered how so many of God’s chosen could reject Him. Paul’s message throughout Romans was salvation by grace through faith. It must have broken his heart that the majority of his Jewish brothers and sisters would miss out on that salvation because they didn’t have faith.

Paul’s willingness to sacrifice salvation for his people shows what a burden their unbelief was on him. A similar burden is borne by many Christians when their loved ones aren’t Christ followers. Like many others, I have adult family members who don’t believe and their unbelief breaks my heart as much as the Jews’ unbelief broke Paul’s. Many of my friends have shared their grief that, in the life to come, they will not be reunited with their unbelieving family members. Like Paul, we would sacrifice our salvation if it would ensure theirs. That, however, is not how salvation works. Although Jesus suffered, died and took our punishment upon Himself, we cannot take theirs. Only Jesus can save them!

It’s been asked, “How do you convince a person they’re in danger of being burned when they’re floating on a raft in the ocean?” I really don’t know! As parents and grandparents, we don’t want to lose our children or grands in this life or the next. Knowing that we are not in control, we must accept and respect their choices. In the end, only God can convince them of the truth of the Gospel! Nevertheless, we continue to love (and listen) to them, model Christ in our behavior, bear the Fruit of the Spirit, and pray continually and expectantly for them. Let us trust that God has a plan for our children. The good news is that, no matter what our loved ones have said or done in the past, they are only one step away from Jesus! Until then, let us pray!

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. [Romans 10:8b-10 NLT)]

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KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:5-7 (NLT)]

white ibis - juvenileAfter his wife complained about the roaches that had invaded their garden and begged him to destroy their underground nest, a Brazilian man poured gasoline into the hole he believed to be the source of the infestation and then tossed in lit matches! Within seconds, a massive explosion destroyed his yard while his home security camera captured the entire thing. “I had no idea that this could happen!” he said. Although the man did destroy the roaches, he destroyed his yard in the process! I’m not sure where he got his bright idea but I would guess that his Smartphone was involved. A quick search with mine told me that pouring gasoline on a roach colony is an effective way to eliminate the pests. Assuming a certain amount of common sense among its readers, however, the site had no warning about the explosive nature of gasoline vapors!

According to Apple, we pull out our smartphones some 80 times a day; I suspect many of those times we’re consulting Google. While our phones give us easy access to an extraordinary amount of information, they don’t make us any smarter; they just make us think we’re smarter than we really are. Long before the internet, Solomon warned us about being impressed with our own wisdom. Nowadays, knowledge is abundant but true wisdom is scarce!

Proverbs is a treasure trove of Biblical wisdom. Written mostly by Solomon, the book stresses the importance of godly living so that people will ”live disciplined and successful lives” and do “what is right, just, and fair.”[1:3] At least six different Hebrew words are translated as wisdom in Proverbs and the first one of those is chokmah [1:2]. Used 41 times in Proverbs, this Hebrew word also referred to the technical skills and abilities used in doing things. God endowed the weavers, goldsmiths, architects, and other artisans who fashioned items for the Tabernacle with chokmah. Rather than theoretical knowledge, this wisdom is a practical application of that knowledge; it is making the right choices at the right time and in the right way.

The five other Hebrew words used in Proverbs are binah (understanding, comprehension) leb (heart), ormah (craftiness, prudence, shrewdness), sakal (prudence, common sense) and sekel (insight). None of those words have anything to do with the knowledge of facts—they are about understanding, evaluating, and discerning how to use knowledge. Wisdom is skill, expertise and competence in understanding how life really works and how to achieve positive results. It is a keen insight into life and the ways of dealing with life’s problems. It’s been said that “Knowledge knows that a tomato is a fruit but wisdom doesn’t put it in a fruit salad.” It could also be said that knowledge knows that both gasoline and fire will kill roaches but wisdom doesn’t mix the two! Let us be wise in our use of the vast array of knowledge that lies at our fingertips!

The decisions we make are either wise or foolish and Proverbs makes it clear that the beginning of wisdom lies in fear of the Lord. While it’s easy to get information on line, true wisdom comes from God! Granted, Scripture doesn’t specifically warn us about dropping matches into a gasoline-filled hole, but Proverbs 14:16 tells us, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” That the Brazilian man also posted his folly on line aptly illustrates two other proverbs: “Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness,” [13:16] and “The wise don’t make a show of their knowledge, but fools broadcast their foolishness.”[12:23]

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. [Charles Spurgeon]

Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. [Proverbs 3:13-15 (NLT)]

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OBITUARY OR LEGACY?

Those who are righteous will be long remembered. … They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. [Psalm 112: 6,9 (NLT)]

Live so that when the final summons comes you will leave something more behind you than an epitaph on a tombstone or an obituary in a newspaper. [Billy Sunday]

giant swallowtailMore than thirty years ago, a friend confided that she wanted her obituary to be a good one. A few years ago, explaining that she wanted an updated photo in case it was needed for her obituary, she asked me to take her picture. Although she was in excellent health at the time, this woman clearly understood the fragility of life. Sadly, she died unexpectedly just a few days ago.

When considering a “legacy,” we usually think in monetary terms, but a legacy can be anything given by or received from an ancestor, predecessor, or the past. It’s the body of work we leave behind when we’re gone and, in actuality, my friend was far more concerned with leaving a legacy of service and love than with the words of her obituary! She wasn’t trying to impress others, pad her resume with good works, or serve her way into heaven. A woman of deep faith, she knew she was saved by grace not works. Nevertheless, she served the Lord she loved by loving and serving His people. Although she’d expressed concern about some of her denomination’s doctrine, she had no doubts about Jesus. The Holy Spirit was present in her life and she never missed an opportunity to be a blessing to others.

My friend was no saint—she was just another imperfect Christ follower struggling to make it through each day the best she could. Her life wasn’t easy and she had more than her share of heartbreak and disappointment. Nevertheless, as her obituary read, “She began and ended each day with the intent of making people smile and laugh. She accomplished that every day of her life. … In her wake, she left a trail of smiles, heartfelt laughter and love.”  Indeed, the world was a better place because of her and, as she had hoped, her obituary was filled with glowing words and the picture was a recent one. Her obituary’s words, however, will soon be forgotten. It is the humble way she served her neighbor and the seeds of faith, love, and joy she scattered wherever she went that will live on in the many lives she touched.

Our true legacy has nothing to do with wills, trusts, bank accounts or property titles; it begins with our relationship with God and ends with our relationship to His children. What we leave behind when we’re gone is determined by how we choose to live today! Do you want to be remembered with a long obituary or a legacy of love?

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. [Augustine]

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this down: Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on. Yes, says the Spirit, they are blessed indeed, for they will rest from their hard work; for their good deeds follow them!” [Revelation 14:13 (NLT)]

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STEAMING THANKS

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. [Psalm 136:1 (ESV)]

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. [Meister Eckhart]

dawnIn a letter to his brother, C.S. Lewis said that ”thanking the Giver” was the “completion of a pleasure” and expressed his sorrow that unbelievers had no place for the “steam” or “spirit…given off by experiences to go.”  As I walked early this morning and watched the sun come up over the pond, it looked like steam was rising off the water. It’s not really steam; called steam fog or evaporation fog, it has something to do with the warm moist layer of air over the water mixing with the cooler air from the land. Nevertheless, it made me think of Lewis’ words as I pictured our prayers of thanksgiving rising up like steam to God.

After ten men were healed of leprosy by Jesus, He told them to go and show themselves to the priests (the ones who could pronounce them free of the disease). In their rush to be declared clean, only one of them, a Samaritan, came back to thank our Lord. Although all ten certainly would enjoy being cured of this disfiguring disease that made them outcasts to society, did nine miss something of the joy in their healing and newfound health by failing to thank the Lord?

The occasion of Lewis’ thanks to “the Giver” was nothing special; he’d enjoyed dinner at a friend’s home the previous evening. Polite English gentleman that he was, I’m sure Lewis thanked his hosts. The capital “G” meant he was referring to God—the One truly responsible for the enjoyable dinner party, the food, his hosts, and the friendship he’d enjoyed. Like Lewis, I’m good about thanking my hosts at the time and often send a follow-up thank you note. Unlike Lewis, however, I’m not so good about then offering my thanks to God—the Giver who provided me with the fellowship of those friends. This morning, as I thanked God for an event I shared with church family yesterday, I thought of how that prayer really did complete the pleasure of the previous evening.

In all things, at all times, our thanksgiving should rise from us as steam does from a pond on a cool morning. Indeed, to be an unbeliever, to have no place to offer your thanksgiving, to have no God to acknowledge as the Giver of Gifts, must diminish one’s pleasure. Thanking God increases our joy; it’s like putting the whipped cream and cherry on top of a hot fudge sundae. Giving thanks is what completes the pleasure but what nine of those lepers missed.

To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.  (Johannes A. Gaertner)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Dear Lord, open my eyes to the many small blessings of the here and now. [Psalm 100 (ESV)]

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