BEING AN INSTRUMENT

tiger swallowtail butterflyBlessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. [Matthew 5:9 (NIV)]

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

We’ve come to know this prayer as “The Prayer of St. Francis” and usually attribute it to Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the founder of the Franciscan religious orders. The patron saint of ecology and animals, Francis often is portrayed surrounded by animals. Stories first recorded by Thomas of Celano in the 13th century tell of the gentle man taming a wolf that had been terrorizing the town and preaching to the birds, rabbits, and fish (who both listened and obeyed).

Francis, however, was much more than a man who loved animals; he loved Jesus above all things, preached a gospel of simplicity, repentance, and radical obedience to Christ’s teaching, and put into practice the gospel life he preached. His contemporaries claimed that Francis lived out the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone other than the One who originally spoke those words. It’s easy to see how this prayer might have been penned by this godly man who endeavored to have the mind of Christ, but its origins are more recent.

Originally written in French and titled “A Beautiful Prayer to Say During the Mass,” the prayer was published anonymously in 1912 in a small French Catholic magazine. In 1915, a French marquis sent the prayer to Pope Benedict XV and, in 1916, it appeared in Italian in L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican’s daily newspaper). In 1920, titled “Prayer for Peace,” its original French translation was printed on the back of a prayer card bearing the image of St. Francis. The prayer circulated through Europe and, in 1927, it was attributed to St. Francis in print by French Protestants. Translated into English in 1936, the prayer was widely disseminated and, wherever it went, the name of St. Francis went with it.

This peace prayer became popular in an era not much different from ours. We may be able to travel from New York to London in seven hours rather than five days but we still are without peace! In spite of advances in technology, science, communication, medicine, and transportation we continue to have wars, financial disparity, social inequality, prejudice, injustice, unemployment, poverty, and even a global pandemic. We desperately need to pray for peace today as much as they did a century ago!

The author of this prayer asked to be an instrument—a tool, implement, or conduit—of peace. He continued with the actions of sowing (not gathering) love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy. Rather than receiving consolation, understanding and love, he sought to console, understand, and love others and then finished with the acts of giving and pardoning. His prayer reminds us that it is the peace makers, not the peace experiencers, Jesus said would be called the children of God! Being a peace maker takes us out of our comfort zones and into the territory of conflict resolution, relationship restoration, and change. Yet, we can’t resolve, restore or change anything if we are part of the problem! What seeds are we sowing? Are we seeking to console, understand, and love? Are we willing to give and forgive? Let us be peace makers and instruments of peace!

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. [Psalm 34:14 (NIV)]

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy. [Hebrews 12:14a (NIV)]

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LIVING WATER (John 4:1-42 – Part 1)

“Everyone who drinks this water,” Jesus replied, “will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.” … The woman said, “Give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty any more, and I won’t have to come here to draw from the well.” [John 4:13-15 (NTE)]

Taos NMJesus was never one to follow man-made rules and, when He spoke with the woman at the well, He broke several. Jewish tradition considered it beneath any man’s dignity to publicly speak with a woman. Rabbinical writing taught: “Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife.” That a rabbi like Jesus did such a thing was scandalous. Those same writings considered women incapable of religious instruction with these words: “Rather burn the sayings of the law than teach them to women.” Jesus speaking of God with a Samaritan woman just made it more outrageous! But, we know from His interactions with women like Martha, Mary, and Mary Magdalene that Jesus wasn’t much for rabbinic tradition so His speaking with this Samaritan woman shouldn’t surprise us.

There’s one thing, however, that seems unlike Jesus in his encounter with this woman when, knowing she’s unmarried, He asks her to get her husband. She admits to having no husband but that’s not the whole truth. Jesus exposes her five previous marriages and her living with a man not her husband. The woman had to have been mortified that a stranger knew of her sordid history. While it’s possible she’d been widowed five times and was living with her brother, that seems highly unlikely. A Jewish man could divorce his wife with the slightest provocation but five marriages reflect badly on her character as do her living arrangements. Since she was drawing water at the hottest part of the day rather than the cool evening (when the village women normally would), she appears to be an outcast who’s gone from one man to another. Jesus never shamed the woman caught in adultery so why would He put this nameless woman on the spot when He knew her disgraceful history?

Prior to being asked about her husband, the woman told Jesus she wanted the living water about which He spoke. Her request was for earthly convenience rather than eternal life. It was then that Jesus inquired about her husband. His knowledge of her secrets established His credibility as a prophet and ultimately identified Him as the Messiah. Recognizing Jesus only as a prophet, she asked Him to clarify the dispute between Judah and Samaria as to the right place to worship. Jesus answered that the time had come when the location didn’t matter because true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. She then realized that Jesus was the Messiah, the source of the living water she so desperately sought.

Jesus asked the woman about her husband so she would face her sins and own up to her immorality. It is only with a humble heart that we can come to Jesus and His question was the woman’s moment of humility. Salvation comes to those who confess and repent of their sins, but the woman had to acknowledge those sins before she could repent. The living water only comes to those who know they are spiritually thirsty and salvation only comes to those who see the need for a Savior!

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 (NTE)]

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SEEING THE LIGHT

Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. [Proverbs 28:14 (NLT)]

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [Romans 2:4-5 (NLT)]

Duluth MN lighthouseAn old maritime legend describes the conversation between a U.S. Naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship kept telling the Canadians to divert their course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision while the Canadians repeatedly responded with the suggestion that the Americans divert their course 15 degrees to the south. Finally, the Navy sent the following message: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this fleet.” It was only when the Canadian authorities responded, “This is a lighthouse. It’s your call,” that the American vessels stopped being so unyielding and changed their course! While this story of an aircraft carrier trying to bully a lighthouse out of its way is just fiction, it’s a lesson about stubbornness, inflexibility, and pig-headedness.

Hoping to catch Him breaching the law, Jesus’ adversaries watched Him closely. When He healed a woman who’d been crippled for eighteen years on the Sabbath, they were outraged. Healing was considered work and He’d broken the Sabbath by restoring her to health. The Pharisees were unyielding when it came to strict observance of the law—even when it made no sense. Carrying clothes out of a burning building on the Sabbath was prohibited but stopping, putting on as many as 18 garments, and wearing them out was allowed! Pointing out that the Pharisees worked on the Sabbath by untying and watering their animals, Jesus chastened the synagogue leaders for their lack of compassion on the woman. Like the aircraft carrier, they were so sure they were right, it never even occurred to them to rethink their position.

There are times we must be unyielding as a lighthouse and firmly hold our position. In fact, we specifically pray not to yield to temptation. [Luke 11:4] Things like obedience to God and our faith in Jesus are non-negotiable and may well place us in opposition with today’s world. There are times, however, when we’re more like the aircraft carrier and the Pharisees—unyielding to a fault. Like them, we’re often so sure we’re in the right that we fail to examine our course or consider the possibility that we could be in error. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of our positions to make sure we’re not on a collision course with God’s word. The aircraft carrier failed to see the light ahead of them just as the Pharisees failed to see the Light of World standing in front of them. Let’s not make the same mistake. If we’re headed toward a conflict, confrontation, or collision perhaps it’s time to rethink our course and surrender the controls to God!

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. [James 3:17 (NLT)]

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IT’S THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS

At the same time the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we don’t know how to pray for what we need. But the Spirit intercedes along with our groans that cannot be expressed in words. The one who searches our hearts knows what the Spirit has in mind. The Spirit intercedes for God’s people the way God wants him to. [Romans 8:26-27 (GW)]

sandhill craneAs a writer, I like to create with words. When writing a devotion, I carefully organize my thoughts, often cutting and pasting while moving sentences or entire paragraphs around. Supporting Bible verses are sought and various commentaries are consulted. Every word is carefully chosen (often after a synonym search). Grammar and spelling are double-checked and editing and rewriting continue right up to publication. All of that messing around with words, phrases and punctuation may be fine when putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, but not when praying. Prayers would never get said if they required that amount of composing, revising and polishing!

God isn’t like an editor with a blue pencil telling us to shorten a paragraph, elaborate on an idea or find a better adjective before the prayer is worthy. He’s not like a teacher with a red pencil checking off our misspellings or grammatical errors. He’s doesn’t grade our prayers or refuse to listen if we’ve ended a sentence with a preposition or split an infinitive. He’s more like a mother who reads and treasures her young child’s letter from camp with its smudges, messy printing, and misspellings. He’s just glad to hear from us.

We’ve all felt painfully inarticulate when it comes to prayer but that shouldn’t prevent us from praying. Although our words may be clumsy, being eloquent is not a requirement for prayer. The power of our prayers is not contained in words, sentence structure, or eloquence; the power of our prayers is found only in the One who hears those prayers! Fortunately, in God’s infinite mercy, He’s given us the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, living in us, intercedes for us in our hearts and it’s that heartfelt prayer that reaches God’s ears.

Don’t be so concerned about wrapping the gift that you never give it. … Better to pray awkwardly than not at all. [Max Lucado]

Dear friends, use your most holy faith to grow. Pray with the Holy Spirit’s help. [Jude 1:20 (GW)]

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THE BOSS’S SON

Who, though in God’s form, did not regard his equality with God as something he [Jesus] ought to exploit. Instead, he emptied himself, and received the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of humans. And then, having human appearance, he humbled himself, and became obedient even to death, yes, even the death of the cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NTE)]

station of the cross II

My son is the third generation to run the family business. Although he is now its CEO, he didn’t begin that way. As his father had done before him, he started by sweeping floors and emptying trash.

The business expanded when my husband purchased a company in another town. With manufacturing processes that were unfamiliar, our son needed to learn new fabrication procedures and started working in the new facility. When he began, only his supervisor knew his relationship to the business’s new owner. He may have been the boss’s son but, to everyone else, he was just Jim, the new guy on the line. In his work shirt and steel-toed shoes, he looked like everyone else, kept the same hours, followed the same rules, and made the same money. What he didn’t do was pull rank or take advantage of his identity.

Although our son originally thought he could learn everything he needed by reading about it, a few days operating the machinery and getting his hands dirty told him there was nothing like first-hand experience! Now that he’s the boss, his employees recognize that he understands and appreciates the challenges they face in doing their jobs.

I tell this story to help us understand what it was like when Jesus put on human flesh and lived as a man. Clothed in work clothes, my son looked like every other hourly employee on the line. Although Jesus is often depicted with a halo, when He was clothed in human flesh, there was no halo and He looked like any other man. Instead of giving up coat and tie for overalls, Jesus gave up His immortal perfect form and took on the aches, indignities, and illnesses that come with a mortal body.

Just as my boy remained the boss’s son but gave up any status or privileges that came from that, Jesus remained God’s son but gave up the benefits that came with His divinity. Of course, Jesus gave up far more than did my son! He set aside the glory of heaven for life on earth and relinquished the divine life He had in heaven to be an itinerant rabbi in Galilee. Even though equal with His Father, Jesus chose to submit to Him as an earthly son does to his father.

Just as our boy never stopped being the boss’s son, Jesus remained fully God while fully man. Just as his co-workers didn’t know our boy’s real identity, people had trouble recognizing Jesus as God’s Son. While my son did what he did so he could learn the family business, Jesus did what He did to take away the sins of the world. Our son may have humbled himself by starting at the bottom but Jesus humbled himself by deliberately choosing to die a torturous death as a criminal on the cross!

My son knows what it means to be one of his employees and he’s a better boss because of it. Jesus knows what it’s like to be human and we are better because of that! Jesus knows what it is to hurt, be disappointed, suffer, struggle, get tired, thirst, feel hungry, bleed, hope, love and die. Because He lived as one of us, we can come to Him confidently and without fear; instead of condemnation, we will receive God’s grace and mercy!

Well, then, since we have a great high priest who has gone right through the heavens, Jesus, God’s son, let us hold on firmly to our confession of faith. For we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Let us then come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us at the moment when we need it. [Hebrews 4:14-16 (NTE)]

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THE “TERRIBLE PETITION”

Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves. [Matthew 5:7 (NTE)]

Yes: if you forgive people the wrong they have done, your heavenly father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.’ [Matthew 6:14-15 (NTE)]

large striped swordtail butterflyWhen our pastor did a sermon series on “Dangerous Prayers,” he didn’t mention one many of us pray regularly: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After giving the disciples “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus elaborated on this single petition by categorically stating, “If you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.”  The parable of the unforgiving debtor told in Matthew 18 leaves no room for ambiguity on this point. After the servant refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, the angry king rescinds his forgiveness of the unforgiving man and sends him to be tortured in prison until the debt is paid. His debt (equivalent to several billion dollars today) was insurmountable and that torture would never end. Jesus warned his listeners that the same thing would happen to them if they withheld forgiveness.

Asking God to forgive us in the same way we extend forgiveness to others is dangerous. We are asking God to forgive us by the standard that we set—to deal with us as we deal with others! Called the “terrible petition” by St. Augustine, we’re actually asking God not to forgive us if we harbor any unforgiveness in our hearts! For some of us, could these words be a petition for condemnation rather than salvation, ones for death rather than everlasting life? If we’re unwilling to forgive, I suppose they are!

Paul’s words to the Ephesians tell us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, and harsh words and to “forgive one another, just as God forgave you in the king.” [4:31-32] Without a doubt, forgiveness is a difficult process and time is needed between our being hurt and our ability to forgive. The struggle to forgive, however, isn’t the sin; it’s the decision not to forgive, to hold onto our bitterness, that is!

Fortunately, forgiveness is a fruit of the Spirit! Jesus said that good trees produce good fruit and that every tree failing to produce good fruit would be cut down and burned. Clarifying that people are identified by their actions, Jesus warned that only those who actually did the will of the Father would enter the kingdom of heaven! From His words, it seems that profession of faith alone does not equal salvation. While salvation is not earned by works, our faith is evidenced by them: by our willingness to do the Father’s will! Can there be an unforgiven Christian? I don’t think so. But, if we refuse to forgive, are we true disciples of Christ or merely hypocrites who say we are?

No part of His teaching is clearer: and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything or that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own. [C.S. Lewis]

Actually, good trees can’t produce bad fruit, nor can bad ones produce good fruit! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. So: you must recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, “Master, Master” will enter the kingdom of heaven; only people who do the will of my father in heaven. [Matthew 7:18-21 (NTE)]

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